Monday 30 September 2013

Culture & Academic Research: Historic Buildings, What Are They Really?

The East side of the Legislative Council and HSBC in 1946 with the Peak in background
Image from tressillian photoblog

Interesting questions!

Must historic buildings / structures be old? If they are relatively new but are symbolic enough to represent a place, are these historic buildings?

Let's find out!

What Is A Historic Building?
Old Halls @ The University of Hong Kong, built in 1915, confirmed Grade 1 historic building on 18th Dec 2009.
Not a bad Christmas present
Image from
We often talk about historic or historical buildings but exactly what are they? I suppose that many of us will immediately name buildings which are of a very old age. This is a safe choice, but don't be too shallow, because age is NOT the only determinant, and that is not the whole story.

Queen's Pier, then aged 50, which was given a de facto approval for its demolition.
The Year of Pig to the slaughter.
Image by Leo Cheung @ Wikimedia, taken on 17th May 2007

Hong Kong is a fast pace city of very high demand for land. Old(er) buildings often have to make ways for newer ones to satisfy the seemingly infinite appetite for residential and commercial properties, thus it is reasonable to think that old(er) buildings have not always been given the opportunity to get old. Some of these buildings are rich in culture and therefore deserve to be protected, or at least enlisted as protected, as soon as possible. This could be one of the main reasons why we are able to see very young buildings, some of which of less than 40 years old, already classified as historic buildings by the Antiquities and Monuments Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong.

Image from
Captured on 30th Sep, 2013

Here's the official definition of a historic building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office,

"Historic buildings are symbols of our cultural identity and continuity which can always give us a sense of wonder. They also carry various kinds of academic and aesthetic value. "

Here, the keywords are "symbols of our cultural identity", "continuity", "wonder", "academic", "aesthetic" and "value", all but the word "time". Thus, it is clear as day that "time" isn't a determining factor in the classification in the case of Hong Kong's historic buildings.

Hung Shing Temple and Fuk Tak Temple, near No. 8 Shau Kei Wan Road, Shau Kei Wan, H.K.,
built in 1969 and 1980 respectively
Image from HKHeadline
Even Fuk Tak Temple was considered in 2010, although not being awarded any Grades.

What Do Grade 1, 2 and 3 Mean?
I like this part, because I don't need to write anything.

Image from

What Are Some Of The Historic Buildings In Hong Kong?
Tsang Tai Uk, Sha Tin, New Territories, built 1847-1867, confirmed as Grade 1 only after nearly 2 decades on 18 Dec 2009,
a little way too slow, don't you think?
Image from David randomwire
There are just too many to be listed!!

The Antiquities and Monument Office has a full list assessment of 1,444 historic buildings posted on their official page, if you are interested, you can click here or find the link in the Resources section below to download. But I have discovered something deep, something which might just well be the Office's top recommendations.

A very special city needs a very special definition for the term "historic". From the Antiquities and Monuments Office's definition of historic buildings,

"The types of historic buildings are varied in Hong Kong, ranging from traditional Chinese ancestral halls and Western residences to functional structures such as waterworks facilities. The architectural styles, selections of sites and building materials as well as types of buildings to be constructed etc. are all governed by social beliefs, traditions, ideas and cultures. The study of historic buildings can reveal the artistic and human messages embraced in them."

Top 3 on the list of 1,444
Image from
From the above description, we can see that the Antiquities and Monument Office places traditional Chinese ancestral halls before anything else, and if you look at the list of the 1,444 historic buildings in building assessment (as of 10 September 2013), ancestral halls-related structures also come in top 3!!!

Is this something that even Dan Brown could have missed?

Kat Hing Wai, Shrine, Kam Tin, Yuen Long, N.T.,
the Wai was built between 1465 and 1487, the wall was 1662-1722,
granted Grade 1 collectively on 31 Aug 2010
Image from
Must A Historic Building Be A Building?
Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir, Memorial Stone, Tai Tam Reservoir Road, Tai Tam, Hong Kong,
build in 1918, was declared Grade 1 and as a monument in 1994,
an example of a historic building that is not actually a building
Image from Wikipedia
Again from the same description above, 

"The types of historic buildings are varied in Hong Kong, ranging from traditional Chinese ancestral halls and Western residences to functional structures such as waterworks facilities. 

Since a historic building can be a functional structure, even if it is not a building, it is still included in the consideration. Thus the answer is "No! A historic building need not actually be a building."

What Could Become Historic Buildings And Structures In The Near Future?
The Tian Tan Buddha
Image by foongpc

The Tian Tan Buddha, aka The Big Buddha, built in 1993 as an extension of Po Lin Monastery built in 1906, has yet to be listed as an official historic building with grades by the Antiquities and Monument Office.

"The Buddha is 34 metres (112 ft) tall, weighs 250 metric tons (280 short tons), and was the world's tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007. It reputedly can even be seen from as far away as Macau on a clear day. " -- Wikipedia

Po Lin Monastery
Image from Wikipedia
In fact, the entire Po Lin Monastery has NOT been listed as 'graded' historic building despite its old age, its "cultural identity and continuity", and "wonder", and "academic and aesthetic value"!! Don't forget economical value and the Hong Kong image.

Po Lin Shut, Lower Keung Shan, Lantau Island, built in 1916,
Grade 3 confirmed on 20 Sept 2010
Image from Medalene and Tachibana san
If there is any part of the monastery that received attention, it was the Po Lin Shut built in 1916 and was only given Grade 3 in 2010.

That said, a historic building which has yet to receive a grade from the Antiquities and Monuments Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong does not imply they fail to qualify as 'historic building'.

I am very sure they will eventually be enlisted as historic buildings, but I can't tell when exactly.

Do you think the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery should be included in the Grades of Historic Buildings in Hong Kong? Or leave them out because no one is going to tear them down anyway? Are they also the historic buildings in your mind and heart? My first realistic water-painting is exactly the Big Buddha.

Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.

Also, take some photos next time you walk around Hong Kong and who knows, they may just be the next historic buildings on the list.

What Is The Difference Between Historic Buildings And Historical Buildings?

Historic VS Historical
245 : 38
Historic Buildings win!
Image from COCA
The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) tells us that "historic buildings" occurs 245 times as opposed to 38 times of "historical buildings", which means "historic buildings" is 6.4 times more popular than "historical buildings" in American English.

Image from BNC
Similarly, the British National Corpus shows 30 results for "historic building" versus 3 results for "historical building", which means "historic buildings" is 10 times more popular than "historical buildings" in British English.

Image from BNC

It is thus obvious that both terms are used with preference in "historic buildings".

symbolic -- (adj) representing something else:
shallow -- (adj) not showing serious or careful thought:
determinant -- (n) formal  something that controls or affects what happens in a particular situation:
demolition -- (n) the act of destroying something such as a building:
aesthetic -- (adj) describes an object or a work of art that shows great beauty:
clear as day -- very easy to understand:
Chinese ancestral hall -- (n) (Chinese: 祠堂; pinyin: Cítáng or Chinese: 宗祠; pinyin: Zōng Cí) or lineage temple is a site of ancestor worship in Chinese culture. Ancestral halls are closely linked to Confucian culture and the emphasis that it places on filial piety.

Antiquities and Monuments Office @ Leisure and Cultural Services Department

List of 1,444 historic buildings with assessment results @ Information on 1444 Historic Buildings - Antiquities Advisory Board

Queen's Pier @ Wikipedia

Court ruling clears way for Queen's Pier dismantling @ The Standard

Dan Brown @ Wikipedia

Tian Tan Buddha @ Wikipedia

Po Lin Monastery @ Wikipedia