The revitalization of the working-class “Blue House Cluster” in Hong Kong has received the Award of Excellence in this year’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Sixteen projects from six countries – Australia, China, India, Iran, New Zealand and Singapore – were recognized in this year’s Heritage Awards by an international panel of conservation experts.

“The jury was impressed by the heroic nature of the conservation projects, especially those that underscore the importance of protecting heritage that is rooted in the least powerful segments of society,” said Duong Bich Hanh, chairman of the jury and chief of UNESCO Bangkok’s Culture Unit.

The jury citation for this year’s Award of Excellence winner, the Blue House Cluster, three 20th-century shophouse blocks in Hong Kong, described it as “a triumphant validation for a truly inclusive approach to urban conservation. A broad alliance, spanning from tenants to social workers and preservationists, waged a grassroots advocacy campaign to save the last remaining working-class community in the fast-gentrifying enclave of Wan Chai.

“This unprecedented civic effort to protect marginalized local heritage in one of the world’s most high-pressure real-estate markets is an inspiration for other embattled urban districts in the region and beyond.”

This year saw a surge in submissions for the “New Design in Heritage Context” category. Three projects, two from China and one from Iran, were recognized in this category, the highest number of winners since it was launched in 2005. The award recognizes newly built structures that demonstrate outstanding design well integrated into historic contexts.

The jury selected projects from 43 submissions, including 31 in the Conservation category and 12 for New Design.

The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation program recognizes the efforts of private individuals and organizations that have successfully restored and conserved structures and buildings of heritage value in the region.

By recognizing private efforts to restore and adapt historic properties, the awards aim to encourage other property owners to undertake conservation projects within their communities, either independently or by seeking public-private partnerships.

Awarded projects reflect a clear understanding and application of various criteria, such as the articulation of the spirit of place, technical achievement, appropriate use or adaption, and the project’s contribution to the surrounding environment as well as the local community’s cultural and historical continuity.

Eligible projects must have been completed within the past 10 years.  Buildings with a new use must have also been in viable use for at least one year from the date of the awards announcement. Starting in 2017, the eligibility criteria for minimum age of heritage properties has been eliminated to reflect growing awareness in the field of conservation the importance of recognizing contemporary cultural heritage.

Further information about the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation and this year’s winning entries can be found here.

The Call for Entries for the 2018 UNESCO Heritage Awards will be made at the end of the year, and further details will be available on the awards website.

Noel Boivin is media and communications officer, UNESCO Bangkok.