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Guardians of city's memories

Published on Friday, 21 Jan 2011
A former sanatorium, the Béthanie building in Pok Fu Lam, before restoration (left), and after the work had been completed. It’s now used by the Academy for the Performing Arts.
Photo: APA
The light-filled interior of Béthanie’s neo-Gothic chapel.
Photo: Ricky Chung
Robin Lee describes his work as satisfying yet challenging.
Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Conserving historic buildings and turning them into unique and interesting projects is a highly satisfying yet challenging undertaking, says Robin Lee, chief assistant secretary for the Commissioner for Heritage's Office (CHO) under the Development Bureau.

"Revitalised buildings add to the diversity of Hong Kong's landscape," he says.

In line with the government's Heritage Conservation Policy, enacted in 2007, the bureau has implemented initiatives to preserve historic architecture in Hong Kong, including the establishment of CHO.

"We are the contact point for technical exchange and experience sharing when it comes to conserving and revitalising built heritage within Hong Kong and internationally," Lee says.

One of CHO's focuses is the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme, where staff members identify vacant historic government buildings and determine if they are suitable for renewal. The office assesses plans submitted by non-profit groups, ensuring that they meet conservation requirements and have included features such as fire safety facilities and access for the disabled.

"Individual projects should promote the preservation of historic buildings among members of the public," Lee says. "We also consider the financial feasibility of the project and the management capability of the organisation."

Apart from vetting proposals, CHO helps groups whose projects have been approved to secure funding from organisations, such as the Legislative Council, get permits from the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) and liaise with other government departments.

About half of the team at CHO are civil servants who are chiefly responsible for policy-making. The rest are employed on two-year contracts and work for CHO's secretariat.

They include project assistants, managers, technical advisers and legal officers.

Project assistants, who help with administrative work, are the most junior in the hierarchy. The minimum education requirement for the position is five passes in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. The starting salary is HK$10,000.

Managers, who earn HK$19,000 a month, are holders of university degrees with at least a year's relevant experience in heritage conservation, public education, creative industry or office administration.

Mainly responsible for managing revitalisation projects and handling administrative work, they can be promoted to senior managers and then chief managers.

Legal officers, meanwhile, are qualified lawyers with three years' relevant experience. They look after the legal elements in a project, such as drafting contracts, and receive a starting salary of HK$46,000.

The technical aspects of a project are handled by technical advisers and their assistants, who carry out initial research, provide technical support and manage projects.

They are usually architects, chartered civil and building service engineers, surveyors, and professionals specialising in public relations and administration.

CHO is now looking for two assistant technical advisers with at least two years' post-qualification working experience in building renovation projects. They will also have to be members of a professional organisation which offers accreditation, such as the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and the Hong Kong Institute of Architects. Their starting salary will be HK$34,000. 

As the chief assistant secretary, Lee studies the feasibility of proposals, leads project teams and oversees the progress of continuing projects.

"The biggest challenges are practical ones," he says. "We need to develop ways to adapt historic buildings through updating facilities and fit-outs without compromising the historic fibre. It requires close collaboration with different government departments, such as the AMO.

"As we work on more projects, we gain more experience and knowledge through sharing ideas with other professionals in conservation."

Work duties  

  • CHO's staff travel to the mainland and abroad to learn from successful conservation projects
  • They are encouraged to participate in conservation conferences and workshops held in Hong Kong or overseas


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