Buildings in Hong Kong come and go – a symptom of any metropolis you may say – yet there are a commendable few who are taking the lead in preserving the few architectural gems left in the city. One such pioneer is Douglas So, a former corporate lawyer who has headed up the conservation of the Grade III historic building at 11 Yuk Sau Street in Happy Valley. The three-storey building now houses the f11 gallery, which will debut with an Elliott Erwitt exhibition on September 18.
Originally built as part of a European style residential enclave during the 1930s, 11 Yuk Sau Street was a testament to a key moment in colonial design history. Defined by simple and clean lines, the exterior is evocative of the Art Deco style that flourished in Europe at the time. Arrow and steeped motifs were liberally used in the balconies, with a gable topping the stair core.
A staircase links 11 Yuk Sau Street with the neighbouring building, while a communal backyard is suited to nightly gatherings. The lower floors had, at various points over the past 80 years, given way to a wonton noodle shop and a posh Chinese restaurant specialising in shark fin soup. A supermarket chain took over in the 1980s. The upper floors were also converted into commercial units at around the same time.
With references taken from archival photos, attempts were made to retain as much of the original architectural elements as possible. The French doors at the balconies were taken apart and restored accordingly. Cornice mouldings make for a clever transition from wall to ceiling on Level 1, which now houses the main exhibition space. In accordance to regulations imposed by the government, also kept are the well-defined spaces – a feature characterising European residential apartments of yore.
The staircase where one ascends from Level 1 to Level 2 was perhaps the number one challenge facing the conservation team, for the original treads, risers and skirting had either been removed or painted over during the intervening years. It wasn’t until after discovering that the three-storey building was once a set for a film – the 1984 Wrong Wedding Trail – was the team able to restore the timber staircase to its former glory.
The only divergence from the original Art Deco style is perhaps the main entrance – modernised to suit the current use.