In the 5 years I have lived in Hong Kong I have seen the fast paced change of the city. I have seen beautiful old buildings reduced to rubble to make way for urban renewal and it had left me wondering how much of Hong Kong’s historical architecture is being lost through this process.
Along with some friends I went on a walk of discovery in Sai Ying Pun to be pleasantly surprised and a little saddened at the history we were able to discover preserved, and that which has recently made way for modern high rises.
We started at the University of Hong Kong. I was under the misconception it was just a blocky sterile place as many of the buildings that are most prominent as you drive by it look to be from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Imagine my delight when I discovered it has just over a century of history and some beautifully historic buildings to rival those of University of Auckland (my home uni). These buildings have been lovingly cared for and stand hidden within the university grounds.
This building, still in use today is over 100 years old, completed in 1912. It has several wings and outdoor courtyards ideal for sitting and reading. It amazed me to find how well it has been preserved, and obviously respected over all these years and still to this day.
It houses the university clock tower, which proudly looks out over the surrounding grounds. I imagine when it was first built it would have had a magnificent view over the heart of Hong Kong. These days its view is hidden by the high rise apartments that have risen up around the university.
I adored all the little details in the building, from the ornate interior door handles to the beautiful detail of the windows and corridors. I took a plethora of photos, awed by the architecture. I think I was in shock to see such a beautiful building with distinct British architecture blended with subtle elements of Chinese heritage hidden within the heart of such a modern city.
I could have stayed lost in this one building all day exploring and discovering what it had hidden around ever corner.
As I was reluctantly pulled away from this grand old building, we discovered even more gems hidden within the university grounds. Whilst many of the buildings are from the late 1900’s (gosh do I feel old referring to my childhood era in that way) and don’t have the character of the grand old architecture, they assist in accessing other buildings hidden on the hillside.
One building we didn’t see much of, but I hope to one day go back and explore is the Hung Hing Ying building. It sits directly opposite the main building and has a prominent dome hidden behind the grand entry.
Deeper within the university we came across the Sun Yat-Sen steps. I am assuming they are relatively modern in origin, but their significance is that they lead to a beautiful garden and pond dedicated to Dr Sun Yat-Sen.
His name comes up frequently in Hong Kong historical landmarks. My understanding is he is one of those who influenced the evolution of China in the late 1800’s. His origins are grounded in Canton and he spent several years at the predecessor of the University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese). As a major figure in Chinese and Hong Kong history, it seems only natural to find a memorial monument to him within the university grounds.
Further into the university we once again were stopped in our tracks as we emerged in front of a beautiful staircase leading up to yet another building of early 1900’s architecture. My camera’s lens just wasn’t able to take in the full scope of this stairway. It complemented the building above it spectacularly. I can imagine many a wedding picture must be taken here. It would make a spectacular backdrop. Unfortunately with time against us we didn’t get to climb the stairs and explore the building above.
Walking through the university I couldn’t help but be inspired by the campus grounds. I’m sure the students don’t see it that way (I know I didn’t care for the heritage of the University of Auckland all those years ago … although in my defence I was mostly stuck in the bowels of the science buildings which were simply big brown concrete boxes). I am grateful these buildings are within university grounds. As a successful university that is obviously proud of its heritage, the buildings within its care are certain to be respected for some time yet. A win for Hong Kong.
I just wonder how many people realise these glimpses into Hong Kong’s history exist. As we exited the university back onto the streets of Sai Ying Pun I thought that was the last we would see of ancient architecture. I had spent some time at the markets there and couldn’t imagine what might be hiding amongst the small roads and lanes I didn’t even know existed…
You’ll find out what I found in Part 2 later this week …