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Speech by URA Chairman, Mr Barry Cheung at the International Forum on Conservation and Adaptive Reuse

Good morning, the Honourable Secretary for Development of the HKSAR, Mrs Carrie Lam, Professor David Lung, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you all very much indeed for attending our forum on the preservation of Reinforced Concrete buildings.

We are all familiar with the fact that most large cities today have to grapple with a number of major issues in urban renewal -- and Hong Kong is no exception.

Indeed, one of Hong Kong's greatest challenges, after decades of rapid economic development, is to preserve and revitalise those buildings that have architectural and cultural value.

Many iconic buildings, such as temples, churches and ancestral halls, and monumental structures such as the Legislature building and the Court of Final Appeal, have already been preserved for adaptive reuse.  These structures are typically built of stone or wood or brick, or some combination of these materials. They were created to convey historical, religious or political themes, in keeping with the "establishment's heritage".

But many of the buildings we now seek to revitalise are of reinforced concrete. These structures were built for everyday use by society and the community at large.   Old industrial buildings and our Central Market are examples of what I mean. The latter is of course especially important because it provides a glimpse into Hong Kong's everyday life.

So the question is, should such buildings be preserved or revitalized in the same way and using the same methods as those used for monumental structures?

One immediate problem that this raises, is that reinforced concrete is a material that was originally designed to last a little more than 50 years. So the same approach may not work. This has been clear to us, and it is a growing problem in Hong Kong's urban renewal process.

Let's take a closer look at the Central Market, a building of reinforced concrete built in the 1930s, that will require particular care and sensitivity.

You may be aware that the Central Market has been identified as one of the buildings under the Government's "Conserving Central" scheme, and that  we have been entrusted by the Government to take over this site. This is indeed a privilege and an honour for the URA.

Our plan is to turn the site into an "oasis" that will provide a haven of rest and leisure in the heart of Central, while preserving its major architectural character.

Our first initiative has been to establish a Central Oasis Community Advisory Committee (COCAC) to help drive the engagement, design, revitalization and business-model planning process. Set up under the leadership of Professor David Lung, the Committee comprises members from the district council, a preservation architect, a curator and other professionals and NGOs.

And, as with all of our projects, we have been engaging the community in seeking a solution. We have made use of territory-wide opinion polls, and professional and public forums of various sorts.  This process has allowed us to understand the social aspirations for the site, which we have incorporated into our planning and design.

At the same time, we have conducted an extensive structural survey to understand the constraints posed by the material. We have also made use of a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong regarding the preservation of key architectural elements.

After having duly considered the above factors, as well as the building requirements now, we invited architects to draw up four conceptual designs. These will be presented to the public via a roving exhibition, and the public's views with regard to the designs will be sought.

As you can see, the URA is keen to adopt the "best practice" approach for this project, a point that Professor Lung has been making.

Looking ahead, we foresee that more and more of our work is likely to involve concrete structures, so we are learning from what is going on overseas in this area. We wish to understand how experts in other countries are dealing with the preservation and revitalization of such buildings, and how innovation and creativity are injected into these projects.

That is what this forum is all about, and I look forward to hearing what the speakers today have to say about the subject.

In closing, I would like to thank all of you again for your presence and participation. May I now invite Mrs Carrie Lam to give her opening remarks on this important topic.