Historic Hong Kong reservoir saved from the wrecking ball gets grade one protected status

Rachel Yeo
·3-min read

Hong Kong heritage advisers have accorded grade one historic status to a striking century-old underground reservoir that was saved from the wrecking ball by a public outcry last December.

In a meeting on Thursday, members of the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) unanimously agreed that the structure in an area known locally as Bishop Hill should be given the second-highest designation on the scale, after monument status.

“I think this is an exciting and happy day for heritage in Hong Kong, knowing the proposed grading … for the Sham Shui Po reservoir is supported by all AAB members,” Douglas So Cheung-tak, the board’s chairman, said.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

A one month public consultation will be held to hear feedback and the findings made available for study, according to So.

The massive reservoir, with its impressive stone columns and soaring brick arches, is located in Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, and was originally earmarked for demolition because of structural problems.

But images shared online by members of the public and picked up by the news media tapped into a groundswell of heritage-protection sentiment and put pressure on the government to preserve it.

A grade one status recognises the building is “of outstanding merit, [for] which every effort should be made to preserve [it] if possible”, according to the definition by the AAB.

In reversing the decision to knock down the structure, a heritage official at the time apologised for the “insensitivity” of the demolition plan, citing miscommunication among staff and waterworks engineers. He explained that the reservoir had been characterised as merely a “water tank” in a meeting with the engineers.

The reservoir was constructed around 1904 as part of the Kowloon Waterworks Gravitation Scheme, intended to increase the water supply for the Kowloon peninsula’s growing population, according to old colonial documents.

Head of heritage office sorry for ‘insensitivity’ of plan to demolish reservoir

Historians say the reservoir offers a tangible glimpse into early colonial development, while architectural enthusiasts have marvelled at the structure itself, saying the style of construction dates back to the Roman empire and comparing the site to similar ones in Turkey and Australia.

The board also awarded grade one status to another service reservoir in Yau Ma Tei, built around 1894 to improve water supply in Kowloon. Some members said that reservoir was “more distinctive looking” than the one at Bishop Hill.

“In terms of the features of its architecture and design, I think that the Yau Ma Tei one is more distinctive as its ceiling is made with red bricks,” said Vincent Ho Kui-yip, who is also a building surveyor. “Although the Sham Shui Po one has a larger scale, it has fewer characteristics.”

So said he looked forward to discussing the heritage value of other three other service reservoirs built around the same time, on The Peak, Albany at the Mid-Levels and Mount Gough, with grading to be accorded this year.

This article Historic Hong Kong reservoir saved from the wrecking ball gets grade one protected status first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.