Hong Kong’s Blue House Cluster has won a top international award for heritage conservation.

The cluster of buildings revamped into a residential and community complex won the Award of Excellence at the 2017 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Though Hong Kong has won merits before, it was the first time since the awards were launched in 2000 that a local project has won the top award.

“The Jury was impressed by the heroic nature of the conservation projects, especially those that underscore the importance of protecting heritage that is rooted in the least powerful segments of society,” said Duong Bich Hanh, Chair of the Jury and Chief of UNESCO Bangkok’s Culture Unit.

Blue House cluster. Photo: UNESCO.

The cluster of three 20th-century shophouse blocks was described by jurors as “a triumphant validation for a truly inclusive approach to urban conservation.”

“A broad alliance, spanning from tenants to social workers and preservationists, waged a grassroots advocacy campaign to save the last remaining working-class community in the fast-gentrifying enclave of Wan Chai.”

“This unprecedented civic effort to protect marginalized local heritage in one of the world’s most high-pressure real estate markets is an inspiration for other embattled urban districts in the region and beyond.”

Blue House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The jury selected 16 projects from 43 submissions as award winners, including three others from China.

Eligible projects must have been completed within the past decade, and buildings with a new type of usage must have also been in viable use for at least a year from the date of the awards announcement.

The Blue House cluster was named after the main building’s colour. It consists of three buildings built between the 1920s and the 1950s, each named Blue House, Yellow House and Orange House.

Blue House cluster. Photo: UNESCO.

The Blue House is one of the few remaining examples of tong lau – Cantonese-style buildings – with balconies. It was declared a Grade I historic building in 2000.

The charity St James’ Settlement was chosen to redevelop the site. The cluster was refurbished over four years and became the first such project in which the original residents remained at the site.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.