Hollowed Hill and Enclosed Trees: A Photoessay

50 comments
Asia, Hong Kong
Shoppers at Haiphong Road

Shoppers at Haiphong Road in Kowloon

In 1884 the British colonial government in Hong Kong built a Victorian-style building in Kowloon as the headquarters of the Marine Police, directly facing the Victoria Harbor on Hong Kong Island across the strait. A signal tower was added to the compound to indicate the local time for any foreign ships visiting the harbor.

However as dramatic turns of events palpably brought unprecedented economic growth to Hong Kong, the tiny territory’s need for space to sustain its economy went anything but receding. The lack of space only meant demolition of older structures to make way for new constructions. Many British colonial buildings were razed, but some managed to evade the grim fate, thanks to growing concerns on the intangible value of the colonial heritage.

The Former Marine Police Headquarters, used until 1996, was one of the few buildings spared from the wrecking balls, although not entirely escaped Hong Kong’s notoriously business-oriented society. A concession was made for its survival; the building was deemed to be transformed into a commercial complex with a boutique hotel, shops, and cafes on its grounds.

The hill on which the building stood was hollowed to create more space for shops, while trees too precious to cut were enclosed in giant concrete pots encircled with stairs. The nearby Old Kowloon Fire Station was also included in the redevelopment project, in its entirety is known as 1881 Heritage today.

Not only in Hong Kong, the Former Marine Police headquarters is a symbol of the constant struggle between heritage conservation with business drive that echoes with other places in the region and beyond. Right now, despite its blatant consumerism, at least the old colonial building is still standing.

1881 Heritage, Formerly the Marine Police Headquarters

1881 Heritage, Formerly the Marine Police Headquarters

The Signal Tower

The Signal Tower

Hullet House, A Boutique Hotel

Hullet House, A Boutique Hotel

A Tree Spared from Demolition

A Tree Spared from Demolition

Wooden Shutters at Hullet House

Wooden Shutters at Hullet House

Indian Balcony, A Distinctive Feature of the Old Building

Indian Balcony, A Distinctive Feature of the Old Building

Colonial Arches

Colonial Arches

The Old Kowloon Fire Station

The Old Kowloon Fire Station

Overlooked by An Imposing Modern Skyscraper

Overlooked by An Imposing Modern Skyscraper

A Piece of Colonial Charm in Kowloon

A Piece of Colonial Charm in Kowloon

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

50 thoughts on “Hollowed Hill and Enclosed Trees: A Photoessay”

    • From the outside it really was a very nice old building — they managed to keep its colonial charm so people today can enjoy its beauty. Unfortunately I didn’t go inside because the main building is now a boutique hotel while the adjacent buildings are used as restaurants and shops.

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  1. It’s great to see that the value of the wonderful architecture is recognized and that efforts are made to save it for the enjoyment of all. I love the creative way they encircled those giant trees. And speaking of creative…how about that purple tree next to the old fire station!

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    • It’s always nice to see how some cities in Asia are making effort to preserve their colonial buildings — if only all cities understood the benefits of such action. And yes, a little bit of modern art can work well around those beautiful buildings. 🙂 Recently I returned from George Town in Malaysia and they did a wonderful job in combining modern art, in this case murals and wrought-iron installations, with colonial building preservation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Da Wolf says:

    Looks awesome there… reminds me at Alice in Wonderland with the reality in the back of the fancy “town”

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  3. Da Wolf says:

    Beside that, I am a huge fan of the old Kowloon walled city (quite different from what u are showing of course)…

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    • Ha! I didn’t think of it that way, but I guess you’re right. It’s a little wonderland there, surrounded by the reality that is Hong Kong. Speaking of the Walled City I did go to the park too and learned about its history. Such a bizarre and unfathomable place it really was!

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      • Da Wolf says:

        Yeah, the parc is a nice place. But – since I studied architecture, I am keen on visiting kowloon (old) walled city so much…
        The density of a city is just beautiful. I ve been visiting a wordpress blog from a photographer who visited there in the late 80s. It helped me a lot to understand and see the fascination and beauty behind the poverty and illigality

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      • I saw images of the Walled City when it was still standing — hard to believe such place had ever existed.

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  4. Fun photo essay! Like the notes about the unique architecture.

    By the way, you’ve been chosen as one of today’s nine blogs in That’s So Jacob’s Ninth Month Blog Challenge (http://www.thatssojacob.wordpress.com)! I challenge you to find nine blogs you find interesting and give them a comment to brighten their day…well, eight other blogs and mine 🙂 Copy this message in your comment and enjoy your new blog friends!

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    • Hi Jacob. Thank you so much for including me in That’s So Jacob’s Ninth Blog Challenge. However I’m on an extended trip now and it’s quite tricky to find reliable internet connection in the places I go. However I really appreciate it!

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  5. I love the confluence of the old architecture with the new. I always like seeing that in a city. I don’t like much else in cities, though. Very nice captures here, Bama.

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    • Me too, Badfish. Seeing old and new architecture coexisting is a sign of progress without erasing the past. The past is there for us to learn from, so we won’t do the same mistakes while pursuing the progress we aspire. Thanks Badfish!

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      • I like your idea, but do we ever really learn from our mistakes? I just read that Korea has nukes and is goading the US. Doesn’t sound like a lesson learned to me! But I love the photograph!!!!

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      • Do we ever really learn from our mistakes? That is one question we keep asking ourselves from time to time because we, humans, have ego which often comes in our way to becoming better people. But let’s not lose hope. 🙂 And thanks for the kind words!

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      • Luckily, some have learned the lessons, sadly they are not “in charge” of the way things go down. So yeah…hope.

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      • Yea, that’s really sad. That’s why we need democracy and press freedom, so those who are not ‘in charge’ can still be heard.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Makasih banyak ya. Selama traveling ini agak susah mau nulis cerita baru nih, jadi baru sempet posting cerita dari trip-trip yang dulu-dulu. Rencananya mulai awal tahun depan baru deh mulai nulis cerita dari perjalanan kali ini. 🙂

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    • Hong Kong, despite its size, has so many interesting places to explore. I’m going back to there for the third time later this year.

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  6. WOW!!! ill be going to HK this coming January and Ill include this on my IT. Thanks for sharing this article and those lovely photos 🙂

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    • You’re welcome. I’m glad that this post gives you a glimpse of what there are to see in Hong Kong — apart from the great hikes and stunning beaches in Sai Kung.

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  7. A wonderful relic of colonial HK captured so beautifully Bama. I have read about the restoration of this building but have never seen such detailed images. Love how the lone surviving tree has been incorporated into the design. The purple rose installation is somewhat reminiscent of a Jeff Koon sculpture 🙂

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    • Hong Kong is a bit late compared to Singapore when it comes to old building preservation, but at least they started. That tree for me really epitomizes Hong Kong’s struggle to keep up with economic growth without sacrificing the environment, which can be a real tough job to do. I have to google who Jeff Koons is, and well, apparently I’ve seen photos of his artwork before without realizing who the artist was. I guess you’re right. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Halo Rifqy. Thank you for leaving your thoughts here. Hopefully other cities in the region learn the lessons about the importance of preserving their historical buildings for they are truly such invaluable assets.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Darcy. It’s such a nice thing to see a beautiful colonial building standing amidst rather monotonous blocks of highrise buildings.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hong Kong!!!! It’s so interesting to see if through your eyes, and for you to have such an eye for detail for my home makes me extremely happy 🙂 will be devouring your blog when I have a Saturday night to read everything!

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    • Hong Kong is such a fascinating place. And despite its current political challenges, it will remain a place I would love to go back over and over again. I really appreciate your comment!

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