Mr Bell In Hong Kong: Walking A Century Of Architecture

My final trip before Christmas took me to Hong Kong. The weather was perfect for sightseeing, warm but not too humid, ideal for walking. I decided to follow a self guided walking tour that I came across on the Discover Hong Kong website called “A Century of Architecture”.

The Central district has always been at the heart of Hong Kong from its early development in the 19th century right up to the present day. It’s where the government of Hong Kong is based and is also home to the city’s important financial centre. Along with some of Hong Kong’s most iconic modern buildings I’ll also be visiting some from the city’s colonial past.

My walk starts in Hong Kong park. The park is a fairly recent addition to the city opening in 1991 with part of it being the location of the former Victoria Barracks. Flagstaff House which sits in the park is the oldest existing Western building in Hong Kong. It was built in 1846 and was known as Headquarters House. In 1932 it was renamed Flagstaff House when it became the office and residence of the Commander of the British Forces until 1978. In 1984 it was converted into the Museum of Tea Ware, displaying items related to tea from a variety of periods.

Still inside the park is Rawlinson House. Built in the early 20th century as the residence of the Deputy Commander of the British Forces in the old Victoria Barracks. This building is now used as the Cotton Tree Drive Marriage Registry and also the park management office.

Coming out of the park and walking up the hill I come to the lower terminus for the Peak Tram. The Peak Tram has been in operation since 1888, carrying people up an incline so steep that buildings appear as if they are leaning at 45 degree angles. To read more about the Peak Tram and Victoria Peak click here.

A little further up from the Peak Tram is the Helena May Building. Having been built in 1914, it was officially opened in 1916 as a hostel for women. During the Second World War it was occupied by Japanese troops and not reopened until 1947. Helena May was the daughter of Lieutenant General George Digby Barker, British Commanding Officer in China and Hong Kong from 1890 to 1895. She was also the wife of Sir Francis Henry May who was Governor of Hong Kong from 1912.

Next door is the unusual building of St Joseph’s Church. Originally built in 1871 the church survived the Second World War and numerous typhoons but it was eventually demolished and rebuilt in its present form in the mid 20th century.

Across Garden Road is the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, a small but nice park to get away from the crowds of the city. There are more than 1000 plant species in the gardens as well as a small zoo housing various birds, mammals and reptiles.

Government House sits on Upper Albert Road and was began in 1851, it took four years to complete this former office and residence of the governors of Hong Kong. Originally it was built in the Georgian style, but during the Second World War Japanese occupation, a dominant central tower was constructed to link the two original buildings, and the roofs were modified to bring in a more Japanese look, which has diminished the European style of the mansion. Government House is now the residence and office of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

Walking back down Upper Albert Road I eventually come to the Central Government Offices. These were completed in 1957 by the then British Colonial Government. The offices housed many major government departments but since then a lot have been moved to the new Central Government Complex at Tamar.

Back along Garden Road is the lovely St John’s Cathedral, the oldest surviving Western style ecclesiastical building in Hong Kong. It was built in the 13th century early English and decorated Gothic style with construction being completed in 1849.

Just beyond St John’s Cathedral is the Former French Mission Building located on Battery Path. Built in 1917 and constructed in granite and red bricks, it’s Neoclassical in style. There is a chapel incorporated in its northwest corner and a cupola projecting above the roof.

The Bank of China Tower is a spectacular 70 story prism like structure and is the work of the renowned Chinese – American architect I.M. Pei. At a height of 367.4 meters the building is one of the tallest in Hong Kong. Its asymmetrical form is pure geometry and has been compared to a bamboo plant, which extends its trunk successively higher with each new burst of growth.

My final building on this walk is the HSBC Main Building. This was the first building of its size in Hong Kong to be constructed entirely of structural steel without any reinforced concrete used in its inner core. Designed by the acclaimed British architect Lord Norman Foster, it’s considered a marvel of modern architectural design. Traditionally it is believed that rubbing the paws of the two bronze lions that have guarded the portals of the bank since 1935 will bring good luck. We shall see!

That brings me to the end of my architectural walk around the Central area of Hong Kong, I’m sure I’ll be back again soon to explore some more of this fascinating city.


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