The debate of 27 Lugard Road in Hong Kong

Posted on May 11, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 2 comment(s)

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The rooftop with possibly the best view of Hong Kong?

 

Since last year, there has been much debate regarding the future of the century-old historic house at 27 Lugard Road up on the Peak of Hong Kong. It all started when Hong Kong's Town Planning Board approved the conversion of this Grade II listed historical building into a boutique hotel, despite strong opposition from the Central and Western District Councils. The new owner, Developer Crown Empire bought it for HK$384 million in 2012 and proposed to turn it into a 17-room boutique hotel to be opened in 2016. Yet aside from opposition from the district councils, it has also caused an outrage among the public due to concern for its impact on one of Hong Kong's most popular hiking trails where it is situated. Since the Peak was solely reserved for Westerners in the colonial days, many lavish colonial style houses were built here. Sadly most of them had been demolished over the years and so historical houses like this is rare to find these days.

While I was in Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to visit the site with conservationists from Hong Kong University's The Architectural Conservation Programmes. The objective of the visit was 'to gain a deeper understanding of the feasibility of integrating conservation and development'. Using Tai O heritage hotel and Cheong Fatt Tze mansion in Penang as examples, the conservationists question whether it would be possible to achieve a sustainable conservation-cum-development. Heritage b & bs have proved to be highly successful in West esp. in the U.K., yet this concept is still fairly new in Hong Kong and there is still much confusion about the proposal of this development.

 

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Left: the steep slope leading up to the house; middle: Petitions opposing the development; right: a red mail box outside

 

In order to get to the house, we had to walk for about 20 minutes on the narrow and mostly shady Lugard Road hiking trail until we reached a 100-metre steep slope and the house's front gate is situated on the top of the slope. We saw petitions and banners opposing the plan along the trail by Alliance for a beautiful Hong Kong, a local Environmental Concern Group that aims "to promote aesthetic values and the integrity of the natural environment in Hong Kong’s public areas, both urban and rural." This attracted the attention of many passing hikers, who would stop to sign the petition.

 

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Constructed in 1914, the house was designed by Lennox Godfrey Bird on the land bought by his brother in a public auction. The house was bought by the Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering company in 1930 and since then it has been used as a residence for the company's staff and family. The house's old tennis court (now the swimming pool) was bombed by the Japanese in 1941, which also hid some of the family's silver (I wonder what happened to it?). Due to damage during the war, the house was not rehabilitated until 1950 by the bachelor owner of 'Kelly & Walsh'. The house has since changed owners a few times and restorations and conversions were made over the years.

Despite the war damage and several conversions, the neo-classical colonial style house still manages to preserve some of its authentic features, notably the segmental arches, columns and decorative stucco seen on the facade and inside. I was also thrilled to see a red letter box outside of the gate, which reminded me of the days when people used to write and receive letters instead of just sending emails and sms. This box is certainly not big enough for our Amazon and online shopping that we receive via the post these days!

 

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Surprisingly, the house is not as big as I imagined, the interior of the house also looks 'newer' than I expected with fully modernised kitchen and bathrooms. There are crystals chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and original fireplaces, hence we can find three chimney stacks on the rooftop. The view of Hong Kong from the balcony of two of the rooms at the front is simply spectacular. I wonder what was on the ex-tenants' minds when they used to wake up to see this view every morning?

 

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The house's swimming pool occupies most of the outdoor area but there is a decent size garden with some tall trees and plants. The view of the house from the garden reminded me of the slow and relaxing vibe captured in the black-and-white photos of Hong Kong's colonial days. This pace and ambience is very hard to find in Hong Kong now.

 

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Lugard Road trail

 

After the house visit, my friend and I completed the circular trail, which took another 45 minutes. It has been years since I have walked along this popular trail, and it is easy to understand the public concern regarding the impact of this development on the environment as it is one of the most pleasant and relaxing trails in Hong Kong. Aside from the amazing trees and plantations, hikers can also enjoy the breathtaking views of Hong Kong for free.

However, I am also wondering if restrictions are placed to prevent extensive conversions on the plot and house, then is there a possibility to strike a balance and minimal impact on its surroundings? The conservationists' use the multiple award-winning Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion as an example to demonstrate that this can be achieved when done properly. Yet judging from other similar developments in Hong Kong, (e.g the hideous newly-converted Wai Chai market), it's hard not to worry that the house may end up looking like a Disneyland castle.

I think that the Town Planning Board has mishandled the situation by ignoring opposition voices before approving the proposal. The Board and developers owe the public a more detailed explanation on what they plan to achieve and how they will achieve it in a sustainable way. I don't know how much power the conservationists have over the developers, but if the developers can work with conservations architects instead of commercial ones to restore the house rather than 'destroying' the original appeal and features, then this project may be feasible (perhaps the Planning Board should seek advice from Singapore).

Hong Kong's town planning is like a joke, and since the government is capable of constantly messing things up, let's see whether the project will turn out to be like Tai O heritage hotel or another Wai Chai market... Meanwhile, I am going to turn a blind eye until 2016 when all will be revealed.

 


This post was posted in Hong Kong, Architecture, Travel, Architectural conservation and was tagged with Hong Kong, Colonial architecture, Architectural conservation

2 Responses to The debate of 27 Lugard Road in Hong Kong

  • Re: 27 Lugard Road

    I hate to disappoint you, but the red mail box is not original!

    I bought it from an antique shop in Singapore in the late '90s. It used to sit at the bottom of the drive. The current owner moved it upstream last year.

    Yes, HK Town Planning is a joke, the Town Planning Board is run by jokers. It is sad to see my old home being ruined.

    Posted on August 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm

  • Thanks for letting me know, but it is a lovely mail box anyhow.

    I totally understand how you feel because Hong Kong is also my second home, and I feel that it is completely ruined by people who have no foresight and vision... only short-term solutions to issues that are more deep-rooted. It is very sad indeed.

    Posted on August 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm

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