The listing and detailed restoration of the “Pátio da Eterna Felicidade”, to allow the area to retain its unique characteristics, are the two most important phases in the preservation of the 13 buildings donated to the government by the Kiang Wu Charitable Association (KWHCA). That is the opinion expressed to the Times by Nuno Soares, an architect and urban planner who has been based in Macau since 2003.
For Soares, the listing is really the most important first step.
“A first step and a measure that is essential is that the group of properties is listed [as heritage],” he said. “In this particular case, the fact that they now belong to the government is great news as it allows them to accelerate the process to safeguard it, but it is very important to list them first.”
The 13 properties are located in an area of the Peninsula that is considered a protection zone of the Macau Historical Center. The area exhibits Lingnan architecture styles and covers 2,184 square meters.
According to a statement from the Office of the Government Spokesperson, the KWHCA decided to make the donation last year. The association expressed their intentions in a letter to the Macau government, donating the properties in order to collaborate and support the development of cultural and creative industries, and the decision was supported unconditionally by all members of the association.
“This is a very ‘sui generis’ [special] place because although it presents a typology that is often seen in that area known as the ‘Chinese Bazaar,’ it has particularities that are very important as it spans over two different areas,” said Soares. “It has a link to the ‘Chinese Bazaar’ area with a covered corridor but also another connection to the [old area] or the ‘Catholic City,’ and this makes it very unusual in the point of view of urban morphology.”
Elaborating on the special characteristics of the place, the scholar, architect and urban planner said, “it’s very rich. It has several buildings with different styles and typologies such as patio-homes as well as group housing, all from the same time period, and it also has several types of accesses like corridors and staircases.”
“In architectural terms, it is really very rich and of course, it’s very important to preserve it and to allow the public use [of this space],” he said.
According to Soares, “at the moment this area is in a very bad condition, with the majority of the buildings closed and with access barred.”
“It’s a unique space and deserves an exemplary restoration,” he argued. More than thinking about how the site could be used in future, what is important for Soares is that the group of buildings can be fully restored, but retain their original characteristics.
“I think what is important is to restore [the buildings] as they were and not to preserve only the façade, which is something we are getting used to seeing in Macau.”
“In this patio style of buildings, it is important to note that these are single buildings [that group together] and this singularity should be preserved. I hope that in the restoration this separation between the buildings is still preserved and that we resist the temptation to pull down all the interior partitions and connect several plots in just one. If we do this, we are destroying what is particular and unique in this architecture style and where its value comes from,” he warned.
Nevertheless, Soares said he was pleased by the donation of the 13 properties to the government for public use. “It is always great news to know that a group [of buildings] of such quality have been donated to the government and [have] become part of the Macau society heritage,” he said.
The Times also contacted the government through the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC). In reply, the IC, which is now responsible for the site, noted “the Pátio da Eterna Felicidade is a traditional Chinese-style courtyard relatively well-preserved. Although it is located in the buffer zone, it is not included in the classified immovable properties list.”
The IC also noted that the “historical value and superior geographical position are favorable conditions for revitalization and utilization,” a reason leading to the KWHCA’s donation for the purposes of cultural conservation.
The IC’s plans to revitalize the patio are said to conclude a plan to use it as a “cultural space that integrates heritage conservation, cultural inheritance as well as cultural and artistic performances, thereby integrating and linking the surrounding cultural resources in Pátio da Eterna Felicidade.”
The IC said it aimed to provide cultural facilities for residents and tourists, and share the achievements of heritage conservation with the public.
FUTURE USE BY
Soares said that the future use of the buildings “must fit the buildings [themselves]. We can’t use them to perform functions that they can’t do.”
He added that while the restoration takes place, the government should promote “an ideas contest for that space, which would be open to local associations so they can express their ideas and suggestions on what uses would fit the space.”
For Soares, this would be a great opportunity for the authorities to promote creativity.
“Instead of the usual top-down [approach] where the government decides what to do with it, we should follow a bottom-up approach in order to create a ‘creative cluster’ in that area of the city.”