Colonial Hong Kong buildings, most of them lost, celebrated in Another City, Another Age by Peter Moss

A must-have for those interested in Hong Kong’s past, this collection of photos shows 60 colonial buildings built between 1846 and 1963, only 12 of which are still standing. What makes these special is the incredible detail in the book

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 6:34pm

The next time you stroll through Statue Square in Central Hong Kong, imagine you are surrounded on three sides by neoclassical Victorian buildings, and the ornate entrance to Queen’s Pier as you look north to a Victoria Harbour swarming with traditional junks.

This is the era the reader is transported back to in the pages of Peter Moss’ Another City, Another Age, a gorgeous new photo book that captures the grandeur of old Hong Kong by cataloguing the former colony’s stand-out buildings constructed between 1846 and 1963.

Of the more than 60 buildings presented in the book, only 12 remain standing today (including The Peninsula hotel and St John’s Cathedral), and Moss writes that “their scarcity in itself testifies to the extent of all that is lost to us, except through the photographic record”.

Incredible images of Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak from 19th century – sedan chairs, the Peak tram – in new book

“Hong Kong is an example of planned obsolescence carried out on a metropolitan scale,” Moss adds. “It is not that the buildings themselves are planned to fail. Quite the contrary, they look – and indeed structurally are – constructed to last several lifetimes.

“Yet the historical odds indicate that … they will be superseded within a few decades. For such is the nature of Hong Kong. There will always be compelling financial reasons to pull down and replace, to build bigger and bigger and maximise the potential of some of the world’s most costly real estate.”

Many readers will be struck by the quality of these images, many of which were taken more than 150 years ago.

Old Hong Kong photos and the stories they tell: eye for detail marks out amateur historian’s book from the pack

Moss writes this astonishing detail was achieved by the large-plate camera typical of its time and the “clarity of Hong Kong’s pioneering plate-glass photography remains unmatched, except by the few large-format cameras that still survive in today’s photographic armoury”.

Extended captions with each image contain fascinating tidbits about each building. For example, we learn that the original Hongkong Bank building – built in 1886 on the same site where the current HSBC Building sits at 1 Queen’s Road – had a mess on its top floors for unmarried clerks from England, with hot and cold running water and gas lighting throughout. Plus, of course, a dining, drawing and billiards room for senior staff overlooking the praya.

We learn that a small section of the teak interior of the magnificent General Post Office – built in 1911 on the corner of Queen’s Road and Pedder Street – remains preserved in the far more modest General Post Office on Connaught Place, which itself now faces the wrecker’s ball.

And we learn that the original Hong Kong Club – which today remains as exclusive as it was when founded in 1844 – was built in 1846 on the corner of Queen’s Road and Wyndham Street, where the Entertainment Building stands today.

Heritage buildings in Hong Kong: why conservation has never been a priority

In his introduction, Moss writes the images take us back to “another city in another age, far beyond the reach of living memory. A city hardly less ambitious, and with a greatness all its own. It occupied the same geographical space yet bore no resemblance whatsoever to the metropolis that has taken its place.”

Another City, Another Age by Peter Moss is published by FormAsia and is available for HK$330 from local bookshops or formasiabooks.com