Let the Shaw House Tell Its Own Story

Written by Ester van Steekelenburg on . Posted in About us, Professional Training

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An artists’ impression of what could be The Shaw Film Museum

In another controversial case in the preservation versus development debate, the spotlight is on the Shaw Studios in Clear Water Bay. In response to public concerns, the Antiquities and Monuments Board announced in March that the entire Shaw Studio complex had been granted the highest heritage grade listing [Grade I]. Their decision comes after much heated debate about the preservation of this iconic complex, of which, ironically enough, the owners had already received the Town Planning Board’s permission, on 14th November 2014, to turn the site into two separate hostels and low-rise residential buildings.

Icon of local film history
The Shaw Studios was first opened in 1961 by Sir Run Run Shaw. It was the world’s largest private studio when it first opened. More than 1,000 films were produced on the site, and many became well-known both locally and overseas. For many, it symbolises the golden age of the local film industry. The iconic Shaw House, that was often featured as a tranquil hospital situated on a hill top, holds special memories for local TV drama fans.

In June 2014, the owners – Clear Water Bay Land Company Ltd, Double One Ltd & Coastline International Ltd. –had already conceded Shaw House and Shaw Villa[2]. They proposed the three-storey iconic administrative building Shaw House, designed by the famous architect Eric Cumine, accommodate a kindergarten, and retain Shaw Villa for residential use, as it was used originally.

Master Plan _shaw

Proposed Master Layout Plan

Keeping the narrative alive
Yet, keeping individual buildings intact is only a first step. The true spirit of heritage preservation is to keep the story of a building alive. What we should preserve is not merely hardware, but the memory, heart and soul of a building.

Hong Kong people once took pride in their local film productions and our city was hailed as the ‘Hollywood of the East’. Why not give a new life to the Shaw Studios that allows it to tell its own story? Instead of a private kindergarten that is off-limits to the public, wouldn’t it be better if the Shaw Studios were converted into a local film museum to narrate its glorious history? Complementing the largely residential area of Clearwater Bay, the museum could become an attractive educational and leisure destination that would diversify the character of the neighbourhood, benefit nearby schools and become an asset of which Hong Kong can be proud.
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Reference: In the 522nd Town Planning Board meeting held on 14th November 2014, The Secretary received a comment from the public that it was premature for the Committee to consider the application while the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) was currently conducting an assessment on the cultural heritage values of the former Shaw Brothers’ Studio. The Committee responded they had already taken into consideration the comments of AMO and the Commissioner for Heritage Office that the former Shaw Brothers’ Studio was currently not a graded or proposed graded historic building.

The Chairman remarked that the applicants had proposed to preserve two buildings of historic values, including the Shaw House within which commercial uses and a kindergarten would be accommodated, and the residence of Shaw Villa would be retained for residential use. The Committee finally decided to approve the application.

Yangon, the city lost in time

Written by Ester van Steekelenburg on . Posted in Consulting & Advisory, Professional Training

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Yangon is a city where time stood still… but reality is catching up fast, property developers are moving in swiftly to snap up the properties left behind by the government when they moved to the new capital Nay Pyi Daw.

The recent opening up of Myanmar opens many windows of opportunity. Preservation of the unique cityscape is one of them. Contrary to many other cities in Asia and because of period of political and economic isolation, Yangon still has a lot of its architectural heritage intact. Now that the city is on the brink of rapid development this presents a unique timely and very short window of opportunity.

The Yangon Heritage Thrust (YHT) is a group of Yangon residents who fear that these unique buildings may disappear and fall prey to property developers to be replaced by skyscrapers. Under leadership of Dr. Thant Myint-U they started a campaign to preserve the hundreds of priceless colonial-era buildings that make up Yangon’s unique cityscape with support from architects, members of the business community and non-government organisations. In addition to publications, public talks, and awareness raining campaigns, the trust has also initiated talks to come to what is the inevitable next step to guide development in the inner city: a viable private sector-led conservation plan. Without such a plan, Yangon’s unique heritage may fall victim to the modern urban frenzy.


I had the privilege of working with the Yangon Heritage Trust, Myanmar Association of Architects, Yangon Technical University and Yangon City Development Corporation in June 2013 on the first steps of making this plan. To be continued….