A building does not have to be old or of an unusual design to deserve preservation. Tenement blocks typically of six storeys known in Hong Kong as “ tong lau ” were hurriedly constructed after World War II to deal with a population explosion. Made of reinforced concrete and inexpensive to construct, they seem an anomaly in a high-rise society where glass-clad facades predominate; they are unremarkable in design and rarely have lifts. But the structures are nonetheless a reminder of our past and often integral to the fabric of their communities and therefore worth safeguarding The government considers heritage listing of buildings and places on a case-by-case basis. A number of earlier generation tong lau have such status, but the generally austere post-war variety is relatively common. That means their fate is more often than not in the hands of property developers. It is in part the reason why the 1960s photographs of Central district are so different from today; the Victorian and Edwardian buildings that once lined the streets were torn down in the name of maximising revenue with the blessing of a government that was eager for development. 100 years of Hong Kong’s street-side past revealed by heritage project Attitudes have changed markedly since then, with society wealthier and more conscious of the importance of preserving the past. There is a better understanding that when an older-style building is replaced by a modern one, close-knit communities and the shops and restaurants that support them are also broken up. Fortunately, some tong lau have been seen by developers as opportunities and architects are being called in to redesign them as luxury or serviced flats. Their utilitarian design makes rehabilitation relatively simple; the finished blocks, attractively painted and where possible, refurbished to restore original features and install modern fixtures, can be eye-catching. Importantly, rehabilitation of old buildings maintains the urban framework that provides the essence of particular districts. Structures that were once modern, but have become dull, faded and run-down, do not necessarily have to be torn down and replaced by gleaming high-rises. With renovation, reminders of our past, no matter how old, have their place in a modern city.