Translated By Lilian Tong (Keypad)
Click here to Keypad to see the original (P.82) | 中文版
You often hear people refer Hong Kong’s Wan Chai Market as an example of traditional Bauhaus-styled architecture, hence the need for its conservation. The iconic building has been classified by Hong Kong’s Antiquities and Monuments Office as a Grade III historic building, which further amplifies its worth for being conserved. Nevertheless, Wan Chai Market has in fact been wrongly identified as Bauhaus. What exactly then, is its architectural style, and how do we identity Bauhaus buildings?
Wan Chai Market was built in 1937 during the popular architectural stylistic design era of Art Moderne. The origins of Art Moderne was first conceptualised after the twentieth century’s influential Art Deco era.
For those who have watched The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo Dicaprio last year, they would probably be familiar with the visual styles of Art Deco. Be it the film’s architecture, interior set design, props or other accessories, they all emulated the essence of the Art Deco styling. Originating from the twentieth century, Art Deco was an answer to the new wave of industrial revolution – architecture designs from the twenties were combining the classical design elements with the new Machine Age imagery and materials. This influential design movement was commonly illustrated by three architectural phases – starting out in Paris’ with the main design focus on product design, while the interim stage came into fruitation in New York with the popular aesthetic trend Zigzag Morderne making its influences on many architectural design where buildings streamlines towards the top, hence its zigzag formation, as evident in the film’s protagonist’s, Mr Gatsby, mansion, the Empire State Building in New York and Chrysler Building. While in Hong Kong, the most iconic building influenced by the style of Zigzag Morderne would be the already-demolished old HSBC building as well as the Bank of China.
During the thirties, the Art Deco era was heavily influenced by aesthetics of transportation machineries, which would then gradually evolve into the new stylistic designs of Art Morderne. Incorporating minimalist aesthetics and visually streamlined designs, the design style was also known as Streamline Moderne. Buildings were designed to have rounded corners, emphasizing on horizontal lines and symmetrical layouts which appeared uncannily similar to the looks of transportation vehicles. A good example would definitely be Wan Chai Market, where its design is influenced by the shape of a container ship. Elsewhere in Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier and demolished Peak Tower were also influenced by the Art Morderne styles.
Not to be confused by clothing manufacturing brand Bauhaus jeans, Bauhaus was Germany’s Architecture and Design School that was founded back in 1919. The name “Bauhaus” came from the definition of to “Build (a) house” is the reconstruction of the German word “hausbau”, which means house building. By putting the emphasis on “building” instead of “house” in the new word. Bauhaus, it reflects how the school’s founder, Walter Gropius, hoped to resolve the housing issues brought upon by World War I. If Bauhaus were to have conceptualised in Hong Kong during contemporary times, it would probably have been names as “85,000” (85,000 Building Units Policy).
The basis of Bauhaus was first originated from the essence of modern mass production, and now the spirit of Bauhaus is evident in many contemporary architectural designs. Differentiating its style from Art Deco, modern Bauhaus style completely gotten rid of classical architectural influences, by having no frills or décors, where the building’s functionality was the main priority. This design principle would soon develop the important basic foundation of architectural teaching known as “form follows function”.
In the thirties, the school was ordered to shut down after Hitler came into power. This was because the Bauhaus functionalist system was said to be representative of consumerism. After several important figures of the institution immigrated to the United States, the Bauhaus style continued to be further promoted there. It finally evolved into an international style which almost became a synonym of modern architecture. Compared to Wan Chai Market’s Streamline Moderne features, the Bauhaus style is more inclined towards the use of straight lines. Due to the emphasis of the “form follows function”, there was no need to deliberately pursue symmetry for the Wan Chai Market. The lack of a symmetrical design precisely demonstrates why Wan Chai Market is not Bauhaus architecture. Although Wan Chai Market is not a Bauhaus architecture, the building did adopt the most popular architectural styles of that era and even made use of the most advanced construction technology of the time – steel frame structures. With mark and proof in capturing the specific era, it is suffice to say that Wan Chai Market deserves to be preserved.
After Wan Chai Market underwent its renovation, only the facade of the building architecture is left unchanged. Such a method of conservation is of course, superficial, but it is still better than nothing. In fact, the biggest problem with the preservation of historic architectures is that they are treated similar to an iPhone by both the people and the government, where upgrading needs to be done constantly. They believe that new construction is the sign of city’s prosperity. With such a mentality, it is no wonder that conservation work is such an arduous task. The reconstruction was completed in 2009 with an added 39-storey posh residential, where the building features a big podium, bay windows and “green” balconies. If one is to be asked about what kind of architectural “ism” this redevelopment is, the Hong Kong originated phrase, “developer hegemonism” would probably pop into one’s head.