President of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) and founder of AGC Design, Vincent Ng chats with Perspective about engaging the community in discussion about Hong Kong's development and the biggest challenges facing architects who work in the city today
We know you have a passion for heritage buildings and the preservation of buildings. Where did that come from?
I think it came about from a sense of awareness to what was happening in Hong Kong. When I was studying in university, it was the early '80s. Lots of things were happening here, lots of new buildings. Norman Foster was doing the Hong Kong Bank (HSBC Building) and IM Pei was doing the Bank of China Tower, so for all of those new projects, they had to tear down a building to make way for a new one. And at that time, we thought that was normal.
I remember that the architectural professors asked students to go to Central to save the Hong Kong Club building. That was a very nice building, but not a lot of people went. Even I didn't go, because I was wondering what the big deal was.
But, when I came out to work and got to know the community better, well, I started to see things going away — not just buildings but entire streets as well. Buildings with colonial-style architecture began to disappear to make way for a flourishing economy, and I began to think that demolition and redevelopment is not the only way for a city to develop. So it was in the late '90s that I really began to be concerned about the preservation of buildings in Hong Kong. But even though I felt that we needed to do something, nothing really happened.
So, when did things start to happen?
In early 2003, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) started connecting with the general public in communicating the value of some of our old buildings, including the Wan Chai Market. We went down there and talked with the people in the street about the value of the market and discussed the Bauhaus-style architecture. That's how we started.
The demolition of the Star Ferry clock tower in late 2006 — there was a very well-known campaign to protect it. We did not succeed, but the government started listening to people, so a heritage policy was started in 2007. The government started to identify buildings like Mei Ho House, Central Police Station, what is now PMQ, and then the initiative for heritage protection started.
So, you see, this collective community thinking and participation can actually strike a paradigm shift in what the society is thinking, or even the direction of government policy.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing architects in Hong Kong at the moment?
The biggest challenge is that we do not have a lot of space to manoeuvre. We need to design through a very tight environment, so inevitably we do more vertical building than horizontal building.
The second challenge is that we have very, very stringent regulations here in Hong Kong. There are international architects who have done work all over the world and they say that this is one of the places with the most regulations, so that also limits creativity.
The third thing would be the mentality of the city. People just want more, more and more — and most of the time, they will sacrifice quality over quantity. Sometimes, we would like to have more space, better space, a better environment, but then you can only accommodate fewer people.
This is an excerpt from the “The Value of Persistence" article from the March 2016 issue of Perspective magazine.
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