When discussing Hong Kong’s architectural history, the name of one building pops up again and again; the General Post Office built in 1911 on the corner of Pedder Street and Des Voeux Road Central. When I first saw photos of those soaring porticos topped by proud jutting balconies, I was smitten, and fervently wished I could have seen this beauty before she met the business end of a wrecking ball in 1976.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the Hong Kong Economic Times, along with Gary Yeung, founder of Urban Sketchers Hong Kong. In the shadows of the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science, an Edwardian gem tucked on the slopes of Mid-Levels, Hong Kong island, we chatted about the passions of Urban Sketchers and the role the group plays in society.
Among the questions asked of us was our opinion on the way Hong Kong has preserved old buildings. That really got me thinking. I had just returned from the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore, and must say that I was generally impressed by how the city state had managed to strike a balance between retaining some of their beautiful heritage buildings amidst the construction of shiny, futuristic towers of steel and glass.
Ask citizens in any country, and I’m pretty sure some will vociferously declare that precious few old buildings have been saved, while an equally vocal lot will pronounce the opposite. I’m sure it’s impossible to please everyone, and that every country walks the tightrope between conservation and change in the name of progress.
I’m not naive. Both are necessary, and every situation needs careful consideration. I just really wish that more of these truly wonderful, iconic buildings had been preserved here in Hong Kong.
Every time I pass the bustling street corner that once boasted the old GPO, I still wonder what it would be like if she was still around. I bet Hong Kong would be so proud of her, which inspired me to create this mashup of urban sketching and fantasy, based on the location today and historic photographs. Hopefully, any old beauties still remaining in the city will meet better fates.