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Hong Kong City Hall

Hong Kong City Hall once was the talk of the Town. When the old City Hall, which existed from 1869 to 1933 building in a magnificent renaissance style, was replaced by a group of buildings with clean lines and stark geometric forms, it not only aroused the city's curiosity, enhanced the stature of the architectural profession in Hong Kong, but also took on the role of popularizing arts activities, promotion of eastern and western cultures and expanding the parameters of community activities.

Hong Kong's first City Hall, built by public contributions in 1867, was formally inaugurated by the visiting Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh on November 2, 1869. The magnificent two-storeyed building, with European style colonnade and archways, contained a theatre, a library, a museum and a suite of assembly rooms. It became a cultural center for westerners and the upper class. In 1933, the City Hall was partly demolished to make way for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building. The rest was demolished in 1947 for the erection of the Bank of China building.

During post-war reconstruction, there was an imminent need for cultural stimulation. The idea of reviving the City Hall was nurtured. In 1950, three years after the demolition of the last remnant of the old City Hall, a committee was formed to consider the possibility of building a new arts venue for Hong Kong.

Designed by British architects Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch in 1956, the new City Hall complex was built in the late 1950s occupying an area of 11,000 square metres on the newly reclaimed seafront formed by two buildings and a memorial garden. Sir Robert Black, the Governor of Hong Kong at the time, laid the foundation stone for the Hong Kong City Hall on February 25, 1960 and declared the opening of this HK$20 million building on March 2, 1962.

Although the Hong Kong City Hall was a bold deviation from the Victorian design concepts predominant at the time, its simple elegance has kept it close to the heart of the people of Hong Kong through the years. Its clean lines, complemented by multi-functional facilities and ingenious choice of woodwork are representative of the design school of Functionalism. Its classic Bauhaus style set an architectural trend in Hong Kong making this very first multi-purpose civic center a landmark design for Hong Kong architecture of the 60s.

Apart from providing opportunities for the audiences to appreciate performances of various art forms, the Hong Kong City Hall has contributed greatly to nurture local cultural and artistic talents. It has also played host to thousands of outstanding local and overseas arts groups, serving the diverse needs of the community.

Reputed as one of Hong Kong's most prominent centers of culture and arts, the Hong Kong City Hall embodies a history of important cultural events and is synonymous with the development of local culture. Milestone events, such as the early Hong Kong Festival, the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1973, the Asian Arts Festival in 1976, the International Film Festival in 1977, and the International Arts Carnival in 1982, all have their inaugurations here. This has testified to the eminence of the Hong Kong City Hall in the international arts scene. Its significant role in promoting cultural exchanges undoubtedly merits the pride of Hong Kong people.

The Hong Kong City Hall is also the ideal venue for important ceremonies and celebrations. Several former governors had sworn in here; and many dignitaries from all parts of the world had paid their visit to the Hong Kong City Hall. It stands undisputed as an icon and a milestone in the history of Hong Kong.

The City Hall High Block also housed the first public library and art museum in Hong Kong. The City Hall Public Library, the first of its kind in the territory, was officially opened on 5 March 1962. Over the past four decades, it has made headway in developing its collection from an initial stock of 20 000 items to over 500 000 items in early 2008. To satisfy public needs for information, it has also made continued efforts to extend its lending and reference services and set up sequentially three thematic libraries, namely the Business and Industry Library, Creativity and Innovation Resources Centre, and Basic Law Library.

The inauguration of the Hong Kong City Hall also gave birth to the modern museum service in Hong Kong. A newly designed museum known as the “City Hall Art Gallery” was located at the 10th and 11th floors of the City Hall High Block and was later renamed “Hong Kong Art & Museum Gallery” in 1969.

In addition to providing the public with valuable chance to appreciate the beauty of rare treasures and historical artifacts, the Museum also put in consistent efforts to promote local art. After years of collection and acquisition, the Hong Kong Art & Museum Gallery built up representative collections in the areas of historical paintings, Chinese paintings and calligraphy, Hong Kong early coinage, stamps, historical photographs, works by Hong Kong artists and folk handicrafts in neighbouring regions.

As a result of its expanding collections and increasing number of exhibitions, the Hong Kong Art & Museum Gallery became the Hong Kong Museum (later renamed the Hong Kong Museum of History) and Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1975 after a restructuring. They moved out from City Hall in 1975 and 1991 respectively.

Over the past years, the Hong Kong City Hall has remained an important cultural hub despite the opening of new civic centers. Like any fine musical instrument which needs maintenance and fine tuning from time to time so as to keep on performing at the highest level, the Hong Kong City Hall underwent a major renovation project in 1993 to enhance the venue competency and to bring new faces to its facilities. Whilst the rare Bauhaus architectural style has been retained, the use of high technology building materials has updated the venue to bring it in keeping with the times.

The Hong Kong City Hall has always been dedicated to the promotion of arts activities as a showcase of eastern and western cultures. For the Hong Kong people, the significance of Hong Kong City Hall goes beyond arts and culture. Its typical Bauhaus architecture has become a landmark of the Central District. While the shrine at the Memorial Garden houses records of wartime sufferings, the marriage registry, which was open in the same year as the City Hall, bears witness to the forming of hundreds of thousand families as couples took their marriage vows.

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