MB Report: Guia Lighthouse in the Dark
Posted: 2006 Dec 01 - 18:13
The Public Works Department has announced public consultations on a gigantic construction project that critics say would leave a "cement forest" around the Guia Lighthouse and other historic sites. If the project, which includes a new home for Beijing's Liaison Office, is built as planned, preservationists fear Macau's signature lighthouse, fortress and church will be hidden from large portions of the city and perhaps the harbour.
The project at the foot of Macau's Guia Hill comprises a 135 metre tall tower, a 99.9 metre tower, and other tall buildings in a line spanning some 300 metres. The site on Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues currently includes a scrap yard with junked cars and machines.
Guia Hill, Macau's peninsula highest point, measures 91 metres. Its crown is Guia Fortress begun in 1622, the most prominent of Macau's United Nation's designated World Heritage Sites. The fortress includes Guia Chapel featuring elaborate frescoes mixing Chinese and western themes that the UN calls a symbol of "cultural fusion and understanding". Guia Lighthouse, built in 1865 was the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast. The beacon still burns nightly, providing a visual reference seen from miles away. The two structures are, along with St. Paul's facade, the best known and richest symbols of Macau's unique history.
"Out of touch with the gambling sector"
The development was spurred by the revocation of two decrees that stipulated maximum construction heights in that area, as well as in the Nam Vam vicinity. The Land, Public Works and Transportation Office (LPWTO) said the revocation stemmed from "the need to modernize the legislation, already 15 years old and completely outdated, out of touch with the gambling sector development and the increasing need for building sites".
Construction has already begun on the tower with a symbolic height of 99.9 metres, which will house the Liaison Office of the Central Government in Macau. The height commemorates 1999, the year of Macau's return to Chinese sovereignty. Other project components include a 135 metre tower and several shorter buildings. At a press conference, LPWTO guaranteed Guia Lighthouse will still be seen from the sea, saying the project has taken that aspect into account.
Promises, not answers
Lawmaker Au Kam San said he and legislative colleague Ng Kuok Cheong asked the government about the revocation decrees, and received the same guarantee that the project won't hide the hill. The legislators asked to see the current regulations regarding construction in that area, but so far have received no answer. LPWTO director Jaime Carion did not reply to repeated interview requests.
The legislators, along with many residents, and the Association for the Protection of Macau's Historical and Cultural Heritage (APMHCH) are still looking for answers. APMHCH president Cheang Kwok Keong said his association is doing all it can to let the government know its dissatisfaction. A statement on its website, www.apphcm.org, enumerates reasons it opposes the project.
APMHCH member Chan Su Weng contends the government is going to cover the Guia Hill view because seven land lots at its base have been designated for the construction of "very tall" buildings that will create a "cement forest". Chan, also president of the Macau History Society, said, "These buildings will influence the entire area's natural scenery, as well as everyone that uses the hill for their morning exercise." He said that APMHCH wants to protect the views of what is now part of the World Heritage Sites list.
Price to Pay
Local architect Jos0‚4 Maneiras declared that the "project is extremely negative" for the urban scenery of Macau. The building volume overload "is enormous, and it looks as if there are no limits," Maneiras said. "Macau is bursting at the seams." He asserted the territory "will pay the price", which may include "changes in the urban weather and a higher demographical surcharge".
Maneiras noted the irony that Macau's profile from the sea will "vanish" and that tourists may have a hard time finding the Historic Centre of Macau since it will be "hidden among buildings and the traffic flows".
He asked, "What good are all the seminars about architecture, sustained development, among many other things, if, afterwards, the contrary happens? Everything seems to go in the opposite direction, instead of taking advantage of these prosperous times to create a harmonious development."
Joyce Pina is a reporter with Ponto Final Newspaper
Guia Hill Plots
Controversial development site has it all: intrigue, politics, traffic impacts, scrap piles
Macau's government said it revoked the 15-year old decrees setting maximum building heights in the Guia Hill and Nam Van areas because the two rulings were already obsolete. The Chief Executive Order implementing the revocation also revealed that several unpublished amendments to the decrees have been made over the years.
According to government sources, the repealed rules - which were not supported by the construction sector and local architects when enacted by the Portuguese administration - have been considered dead since Macau's return to Chinese rule seven years ago. The sources note that the Galaxy StarWorld, Wynn Macau and MGM Grand Macau all exceed the decrees' height limits.
Seven plots abrewing
Whatever reasoning, interpretation and history on offer, one solid fact is that construction at the foot of the Guia Hill is set to go ahead. That area comprises seven plots of land (Plots 133 to 137, 138a and 138b).
The 99.9 metre tall Central Government Liaison Office is already under construction on Plot 136. The RMB271 million (US$33 million) structure is for completion by next December to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Macau's handover. Sources say the Xinhua Building, site of Beijing's current liaison office, will be converted into a hotel.
Another major project at the base of the Guia Hill is a 135 metre tower on Plot 134, which has a developable area of 3,800 square metres. The mixed-used tower will include residential and office units. In addition to a private car park, the developer is also required to build a public car park with spaces for at least 100 cars and 20 motorcycles. The tower is scheduled for completion by early 2008.
Junk yard dogs development
Construction proposals for the remaining plots are still awaiting official approvals. Sources tell Macau Business proposals for the sites include a hotel. However, the project remains stuck due to a wrangle over Plots 138a and 138b, now site of a junk yard.
According to the sources, the two plots are owned by a local property tycoon. The government wants to swap land with the tycoon so that it can coordinate development of the entire base of Guia Hill. But so far the two parties cannot agree on land to be exchanged for the junk yard site. The government is reportedly under increasing pressure to expedite the land swap because neither the Liaison Office nor the mixed-use tower wants a junk yard as a neighbour. Area residents have also long complained that the junk yard is an eyesore.
The government also plans to add new roads and pedestrian facilities to the area, possibly an overpass and tunnel. Sources say officials see the improvements as a strategically crucial link to divert traffic from the NAPE region and sustain growth of the gaming industry. Apart from easing the traffic bottleneck near the Orient Arch, the project is also expected to create a new commercial hub in the area.
by Alan Tso