Hong Kong’s post-war heritage building grading needs to be placed in the hands of specialists
Professor Ho Puay-peng forcefully argued the heritage case for Hong Kong’s landmark post-war architecture in his commentary, “Why post-war buildings must be preserved” (March 29). I would like to add to his calls for action.
Besides the urgent need for a survey of post-war heritage buildings, as well as a specific set of guidelines to assess the worth of this broad range of architecture, we should ask: who grades Hong Kong’s historic buildings?
The process begins with a “scoring exercise” by a five-member assessment panel under the Antiquities Advisory Board, which includes the executive secretary of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO). The panel “scores” the buildings it reviews before proposing grades for the board to adopt, or otherwise.
Officially described as comprising experts in history, architecture, town planning and engineering, some of the panel’s judgments have been found desperately wanting in recent years. As the grading furore over North Point’s State Theatre in 2016 showed, some panel members ranked different historic buildings simply by age, while dismissing the importance of their social value or the collective memory they embody.
Similarly, the panel has failed to convince the public that it has the requisite specialist knowledge in such areas as post-war architecture or the history of Hong Kong cinema. These problems show that the official assessment mechanism and criteria for historic buildings in Hong Kong are both outdated and at odds with public expectations.
Except for the AMO head, all members of this narrowly based panel were appointed back in 2005. It is time for a revamp. It is also important to recognise the fact that different experts could be required for each grading assessment, depending on the nature of different buildings.
The grading of historic buildings is a serious matter, for it decides the fate of heritage belonging to 7 million Hong Kong people. The official assessment should therefore be based on the broadest, best-informed and most professional input from the community, and certainly not subjected to the myopic biases of a closed panel.
For the various proposed changes to materialise, the Development Bureau, under which heritage conservation falls, should commit resources to reform the historic buildings grading system. Act now to save the past for the future.
Paul Chan, Co-founder & CEO, Walk in Hong Kong