A farsighted developer took a gamble on an aging but iconic tenement building in the Western District and came up with a winner. Agnes Lu reports.
renovation work could start.
Every major modification for the old tong lau had to go through the Buildings Department, which also regarded it as a seldom-spotted creative project and managed to put the innovative conversion under the planning code current at the time. Because “no one wanted to put elevators into old buildings back then,” Allan said and laughed.
The first step was repairs and upgrading building services, as in tackling leakage issues, problematic drainage and sewage systems, unsteady ceilings and missing windows.
At least 15 submissions were handed to the Buildings Department, and every few days department officials would arrive to check if the submission was within regulation.
The biggest headache, Allan recalled, was when they found out the interiors in no way matched the building plan they had acquired. “Maybe 50 years ago somebody dug out the sewage pipes and the drainage pipes and changed them, but didn’t tell the Buildings Department,” Allan said.
So the team had to put everything back to fit the original building plan before submitting an upgrade application with the Buildings Department, a process that was “costly and time-consuming”.
The second phase came when an elevator was to be installed. The team tried different locations to facilitate the ride, such as somewhere close to the living rooms, but could only put it next to the fire escape to meet the fire safety codes.
Even the size of the elevator was adjusted to leave room for the fire escape. The shaft space could not be dug below the building so the elevator lobby was instead put at the top of a short flight of stairs.
finally Design Office (KPDO) handled the interiors with the aim of preserving the old building to the best of their ability. Natural materials and a neutral color palette were chosen in line with the building’s original understated charm.
For example, the bathroom and kitchen islands had a special kind of smoky gray marble installed to create synergy between the two areas. The design team toured multiple mainland shops before finally picking this material.
The apartments were also given oak flooring, doors and cabinetry, with custom-made luxury accents such as curved brass handles that hint at traditional Chinese design.
The highlight of the apartments is sliding windows on three sides that dominate the living room, offering panoramic sea views and balmy sea breezes.
The original sweeping, curved glass windows were therefore preserved, while the designers lowered the parapets to maximize views of the horizon. The team also refurbished the façade of the building, while retaining its original black terrazzo nameplate, emblazoned above the entrance in Chinese script. Inside the building, the staircase handrails in yellow terrazzo were also restored to their former glory.
“Along this part of the Kennedy Town waterfront, the building used to be iconic and was part of the fabric of the area. Its unique features are things I really wanted to keep,” said Allan.