Queen’s Pier in 2003
Good news. Breaking news. All the news!
After nine long years the Hong Kong government finally has plans to rebuild Queen’s Pier.
According to SCMP and the HKFP (both articles are linked to at the bottom of this article if you wish to peruse them), the pier will be rebuilt as part of the current Central Pier complex and will be sandwiched by piers 9 and 10, the two public piers. There seems to be no information as to whether Queen’s Pier will be open for use or whether it will be only be aesthetic.
Ah. That’s a good word. A big one too.
The pier that will be rebuilt is a modern utilitarian structure that is but 50 years old, it is not the aesthetic, nor the age, nor even the convenience that made the government keep it in storage for what will soon be a decade. The building is important because of its historical and cultural importance.
The place where Queen’s Pier once stood is part of a group of historically important structures which included the Edinburgh place Ferry Pier, City Hall and a within a few minutes down the road, the old Supreme court. The Antiques and Monuments board said that the historic and architectural value of Queen’s Pier had to be addressed on the grounds that it was part of an assemblage of government buildings most built in similar post-modern styles, by itself it did not possess too much. The pier itself prior to the handover of 1997 was used mainly as a ceremonial pier for visiting British dignitaries which included Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, HRH The Prince of Wales and every governor since the 50s. Arriving governors would land at Queen’s Pier, inspect the guard of honour then take their oath in City Hall. The Antiques and Monuments board also noted that the pier had great social/collective memory since it was used as the backdrop to many local films and was also used as a public pier and social meeting spot when nothing important was happening.
Princess Alexandra and Lord Snowden in Hong Kong during their East Asia Tour, 1966
It should be said now that there has always been a pier at or around the site for ceremonial purposes. Originally there was a small wooden structure which was replaced in the 1920s with the first proper pier known as Statue Pier, later renamed Queen’s Pier in honour of Queen Victoria (though, as is often the case with Queen Victoria, Victoria was already dead). This pier was a lot more imposing than the to-be-rebuilt pier, it had the same triangular top but also a stone archway decorated with all the etchings, carvings and general stonemasonry you would expect from historic British structures. This pier was decommissioned and demolished in the 50s. As one pier went down, another pier, 1950’s Queen’s Pier, went up.
1920s Queen’s Pier. Note the podium for Queen Victoria’s statue in the foreground.
All was good until 2007 when the government needed to reclaim more land. I remember the reclamation but at that time but thought nothing of it except that I could remember fondly walking from City Hall to the IFC for lunch during a day of rehearsal for a choral concert and could smell the Ocean. That’s not possible now, though luckily, the ocean is still in sight. Sort of. There’s now the world’s smallest Ferris wheel in the way. The reclamation claimed not only Queen’s Pier but also Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier which was owned by and used only by Star Ferry, the outlying Island piers were located elsewhere. Both piers were demolished despite aggressive public protest which included banners, sit ins and even hunger strikes.
The government however promised to keep the clock tower from Edinburgh Ferry Pier and to rebuild Queen’s Pier though they did not give a date for either. There is still no news about the clock tower but the pier is now reviving.
This is of course without a doubt good news. As of late the government has not been very compassionate about historical sites and this is a step in the right direction. The issue is that their plans, although ambitious, are still a little ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as Central Pier looks (and which Queen’s Pier will now become part of).
Central Pier was built in 2007 to take over from Edinburgh Place pier and to its merit, it’s an amazingly convenient complex. There is a footbridge linking from IFC, it is a small walk away from Hong Kong and Central MTR stations and has a bus/taxi/minibus terminal. There are restaurants and stores and even an occasional farmer’s market. It also houses 2 public piers, the Star Ferry pier, outlying island piers, discovery bay pier and now even the Maritime museum.
And this is a big however.
It looks like shit.
Central ‘Plastic’ Pier
Or rather as journalist Ng Tze-Wei described it “neither modern nor authentic – more like a something taken from a film set or theme park”. It was modelled on the 1912 Star Ferry Pier which was situated at the bottom of Ice House Street but like other ferry piers was demolished when the need of land grew larger and there was no choice but to reclaim more and more of the harbour. Star Ferry has spoken out against the Central Pier Complex saying that its distance from Central and Hong Kong MTR stations has reduced their passenger intake. The plan is to rebuild Queen’s Pier between the two public piers at the end of the pier complex.
As the architectural styles of the amusement-parky-mock-Edwardian pier and the mock-Victorian-utilitarian pier are incompatible, the government have released three different proposals to reinstate the pier. The first plan is to rebuild the roofs of the two public piers so that all three piers will have the triangular rooves which were common in colonial piers (see: Blake Pier in Stanley for closest comparison. The second will have walls built around Piers 9 and 10 so that different architectural styles will stand out against each other forming a old-within-new sort of aesthetic. There will also be canopies to link the piers. The final and cheapest proposal is essentially to do nothing at all and just plonk the old pier between the new piers. The three plans are estimated to cost HK$303, HK$248 and HK$230 million respectively.
The second option seems to be the best middle route. Assuming that the recommissioning of the pier will go according to plan, HK$230mil will be spent anyway, with only HK$18mil more Queen’s Pier will be given a proper place within the pier and its architectural and cultural difference respected. Plus, depending on how it turns out, even if the most expensive option were taken there is nothing to say that redesigning the 2007 pier will be a good idea. What would happen is piers 9, 10 and Queen’s Pier will becoming their own historic reenactment complex separate from the rest of the pier complex. Piers 9 and 10 are part of Central Pier’s mock-Edwardian architecture and a having a separation of the two aesthetics might prove to create a more interesting design. Having said all that, I can’t see how building walls around a pier is very practical.
Proposals A, B and C respectively.
Images via: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/03/11/60026/. Via HKGov
Of course, all this is speculation.
I look forward to seeing how everything turns out. Although the plans don’t seem to be brilliant, any move is a step in the right direction.
Maybe we’ll even get the Star Ferry clock tower back.
For further reading if interesting, the following were consulted in writing this post.
“An Architectural and Historical appraisal of Queen’s Pier Central”, Annex B. Report by the AMAAB. Available online.
“Public Hearing on the grading of Queen’s Pier”, 129th Meeting of the Antiques and Monuments Advisory Board, public meeting. Available online.
Kris Cheng “Proposals to restore Queen’s Pier”, Hong Kong Free Post
Sidney Leung, “Queen’s Pier Resurrected? Hong Kong officials considering design options near its former site” South China Morning Post. Available Online
Ng Tze-Wei “Not even HK’s storied Star Ferry can face down developers”, International Herald Tribune. Available online.
Trea Wiltshire “A Stroll through Colonial Hong Kong”, Form Asia Books