City Hall, Hong Kong
Since Hong Kong does not designate itself or any part of itself as a city, there is no mayor or city council; therefore, the City Hall does not hold the offices of a city government, unlike most city halls around the world. Instead, it is a complex providing municipal services, including performing venues and libraries.
The City Hall is managed by the Government's Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The Urban Council managed the City Hall (through the Urban Services Department) and held its meetings there prior to its dissolution in December 1999. Prior to its dissolution the UrbCo served as the municipal council for Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (including New Kowloon). The UrbCo had its meeting chamber in the Low Block of the City Hall.
The first City Hall of Hong Kong, which existed from 1869 to 1933, occupied the current sites of the HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building (partly) and the Bank of China Building. The current site of the HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building was occupied in part by the old City Hall, and in part by earlier generations (1st and 2nd) of the HSBC building.
Design and function
The City Hall was built on Government land, and funds were raised for its construction, which started in 1866, from public subscriptions. The two-storey hall was designed by Me A. Hermite, a French architect, in a magnificent renaissance style, with cupolae, colonnades and arches. The facilities available for use by the local community included a theatre, library, museum and assembly rooms. A fountain, sponsored by Dent & Co. was located at the front (south side) of the Hall. The building was inaugurated by HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh on 28 June 1869 on his visit to the colony.
The land was acquired by the Hong Kong Bank in 1933 for its 3rd generation headquarters, so that the western part of City Hall was pulled down. The remaining part was demolished in 1947 to make way for the Bank of China Building.
The second and current City Hall complex was built in the late 1950s on a 10,000-square-metre plot of land on the newly reclaimed seafront, about 200 metres from the location of the first generation building. It officially opened on 2 March 1962 by then Governor Robert Brown Black. It was placed under the responsibility of the Urban Council.
It was designed in 1956, by British architects Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch. With its clean lines and stark geometric forms, the new Hall is an example of the International style fashionable at the time. The structure was constructed using steel and concrete, and much of the equipment was of steel, glass and anodised aluminium.
The two separate blocks and gardens were laid out as a cohesive whole, along a central axis. The entrance to the lower block (exhibition hall) of the City Hall formed an axis with Queen's Pier to lend a sense of occasion to visiting dignitaries. One major consideration was juxtaposing the city bustle whilst maximising public access to the surrounding area. Thus, the out-sized public areas of the Memorial Gardens and the piazza in front were conceived as a natural extension to promote the "freedom of movement and a sense of unlimited space".
City Hall's Concert hall and theatre have been an important home to the performing arts in Hong Kong since its inauguration. A number of culture events, including the Hong Kong Festival, Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1973, Asian Arts Festival in 1976, the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 1977, and the International Arts Carnival in 1982 were hosted there. The conference room of the former Urban Council was also at the lower building of the City Hall.
The High block once housed Hong Kong's principal public library, until a new Central library was opened in 2001; the Hong Kong art gallery (which became the Hong Kong Art Museum in 1969) began life there on the tenth and eleventh floors. The Hong Kong Museum of History relocated in 1975, and the Hong Kong Museum of Art also moved out of City Hall in 1991.
The City Hall Memorial Garden at the north-western quadrant is a walled garden (for pictures see below). It is a popular spot and obligatory backdrop for photographs of couples who celebrate their marriage in the City Hall Registry. Within the garden is a regular dodecagon shrine with an embedded memorial (Roll of Honour and Plaque) to those killed in Hong Kong during World War II (1941–1945).
Summary of facilities
The complex has two buildings and a garden.
The High Block, a 12-storey building, is in the south-western end and houses a number of government facilities, including:
- City Hall Library, an eight-storey facility, which in the past served as the central library of Hong Kong (on the 9th – 11th floors)
- Exhibition Gallery, 260 square feet (24 m2).
- Recital Hall with 111-seats.
- Committee Rooms: two 40-seat committee rooms (on the 7th floor)
- Marriage Registry (on the 1st floor)
The 3-storey Low Block is at the eastern end, with the following facilities:
- Concert Hall, with 1,434 seats and 60 standees at the mezzanine level.
- Restaurants and a cafe, managed by Maxim's Catering: continental (Deli and Wine), Chinese (City Hall Maxim's Palace) and European (Maxim's Restaurant) cuisines
- The URBTIX Box Office
- Exhibition Hall, 590-square metres.
- Theatre with 463 seats.
- Performing Arts Shop
- an enquiry counter
High Block floor directory
Other civic centres in Hong Kong:
- HMS Tamar
- Chater Garden
- Statue Square and the Cenotaph
- HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building
- Government House, Hong Kong
- Former Supreme Court Building
- EIA: A survey report of Historical Buildings and Structures within the Project Area of the Central Reclamation Phase III, Chan Sui San Peter for the HK Government, February 2001
- "Building Together: 160 Years of Hong Kong – French Common Heritage and Perspectives" Exhibition leaflet
- Heron, Liz (13 May 2007). "Save Queen's Pier, says architect of City Hall complex". South China Morning Post. p. 4.
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