Seventeen French buildings of different eras in Hong Kong are being featured at an exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre until January 1, 2009. They reveal the role of French architecture as a vehicle for cultural interchange between Hong Kong and France since the mid-19th century.
The exhibition, “Building Together: 160 Years of Hong Kong – French Common Heritage and Perspectives”, is jointly organised by the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, the Antiquities and Monuments Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and the Lee Woo Sing Hong Kong History Resource Centre, Shaw College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Officiating today (September 18) at the exhibition’s opening ceremony were the Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, Mr. Jean-Pierre Thébault, the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Chung Ling-hoi, and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Liu Pak Wai.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Chung noted that French architecture was well-known world-wide for its outstanding characteristics and that there were a number of beautiful French buildings in Hong Kong. Mr Chung said following the establishment of French diplomatic representation in Hong Kong in 1848, buildings in the French style, such as Béthanie, Nazareth, the French Mission Building and St. Paul’s Convent, began to appear.
“Some of them are still standing outstandingly among the many modern buildings today and are in good use. These buildings tell many stories about the history and development of Hong Kong and have formed part of our heritage.
“Illustrated with artifacts, models and photos, this exhibition will foster a better understanding of the social and cultural connections and exchanges between France and Hong Kong over the past 160 years,” said Mr Chung.
Since the mid-19th century, Hong Kong’s continuous exposure to Western culture led to the emergence of a new culture that blends East and West with its own unique identity. The influence of French architectural style in Hong Kong can be divided into three key phases: Arrival (the second half of the 19th century), expansion (the early 20th century up to the Japanese occupation) and renewal (post-war to present).
The core of the City of Victoria was much like any European city by the mid-19th century, with its government buildings, churches, foreign trading houses, banks, hotels, clubs and city hall designed in European styles. French buildings in the City of Victoria were well-represented and exuded a strong European character. Their imposing appearance and elegance made them symbols of European exclusivity – beyond the reach of the Chinese population. This was counter-balanced by the many buildings built by French religious bodies on Hong Kong Island for social welfare. The good work of these orphanages, schools and hospitals is the main reason behind the sentimental attachment of the local community to 19th-century European architecture. Representative French buildings of this period include L’Asile de la Sainte Enfance, Béthanie (now the campus of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts), Nazareth (now University Hall, a declared monument), and Old City Hall.
In the early 20th century, French architectural style was undergoing change, with the Classical style giving way to architectural design movements. Art Deco style emphasised simplicity and elegance. Realism made maximum use of space and light. Hong Kong people began to apply French building techniques and styles to traditional structures such as residences and cinemas. This produced an “East meets West” fusion that was not only aesthetically pleasing but also catered for local needs. With the expansion of the city’s core, this hybrid style spread to the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. New aesthetic standards and ways of thinking gave local people new ways of living, enabling and enriching Hong Kong’s emerging culture in the rapidly advancing 20th century. French buildings which are familiar to the public include the French Mission Building (now the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, a declared monument), St. Paul’s Convent, Old St Paul’s hospital and school buildings, St Joseph’s building on Kennedy Road, La Salle College, tenements on Prince Edward Road, and Lee Theatre.
After the Second World War, the Government expanded the city’s core to the New Territories, using advanced technology to overcome geographical barriers and climatic constraints. Private French companies participated in infrastructure projects geared towards the development of the city. Today, as a society that has benefited from the free flow of information, Hong Kong has continued to get “the best of both worlds” by monitoring international trends and taking the initiative to learn from different cultures from around the world. Its world famous skyline is testament to this dedication to architectural excellence. French private construction firms played a substantial part in this and continue to build together with the people of Hong Kong to create new heritage and perspectives for the future, such as the French International School, Lion Rock Tunnels, West Harbour Tunnel, and AsiaWorld-Expo, to name a few.
French architecture has not only left its mark in Hong Kong’s history, some are distinctive examples of built heritage under conservation and revitalisation in Hong Kong.
The Heritage Discovery Centre is located at Kowloon Park, Haiphong Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. The centre is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is free.
For details of the exhibition, guided visit and other activities, please visit the Antiquities and Monuments Office’s website at www.amo.gov.hk or call 2208 4400.
Ends/Thursday, September 18, 2008
Pictured is the Asile de la Sainte Enfance which was founded in 1848 to rescue abandoned babies. In 1914, the property was sold to Paul Chater and moved to a new location in Happy Valley.
Pictured is the University Hall of the University of Hong Kong. The premises originally belonged to Nazareth, which was the biggest printing house of the Missions Etrangères de Paris in Asia in the late 19th century.
Pictured shows the secondary school of the French International School built by a French company on Blue Pool Road.