Macau’s 15-year casino boom has resulted in a series of ripple effects upon the centuries old former Portuguese colony. Glitzy highrise properties to match gilt-trimmed neon lit casinos have sprung up in the last decade, predominantly in Taipa, and more recently in north Coloane. Yet in the UNESCO World Heritage-protected centre of Macau and its adjacent Buffer Zone, development has progressed more slowly. Due to the emphasis on restoration and conservation, it is rare to find prime real estate in peninsular Macau. This perfect storm of factors makes The Fountainside an unusual development in a town where bigger is often seen as better.
Small is Beautiful
Situated in the Penha Hill district a stone’s throw from the 17th century site of Our Lady of Penha Chapel, The Fountainside was named after a fountain in nearby Lilau Square that was a source of drinking water for the town’s earliest settlers. The district was historically home to Portuguese nobility, and many of its stately colonial manors embellished in bubblegum colours remain to give the neighbourhood its character. The district appeals mostly to discerning Macanese buyers who prefer to reside in generous quarters far away from the casinos, yet still be within short distances to the CBD, renowned schools, shopping and the city’s transportation network.
Developed by Headland Development and managed by Bela Vista Property Services, The Fountainside is an 80,000-square foot freehold low-rise residence that offers 42 apartments, terracos, duplexes and villas. The 34 apartments range from 570-square foot studios to 1,800-square foot four-bedroom units, each boasting balconies. Two terracos (1,450 square feet) offer generous sky gardens that double the unit’s square footage while two duplexes (2,400 and 3,550 square feet) include private gardens and floor to ceiling windows. Finally, four three-storey villas ranging from 3,000 to 3,770 square feet with basement garage and private garden offer double height atrium spaces.
The Fountainside’s supporting facilities include dedicated indoor parking, landscaped gardens, a state-of-the-art gym and an eco-friendly green roof. The colonial Portuguese façade clad with light stone and featuring windows outfitted with dark wooden shutters steps back to give the illusion of a lower structure in the same scale and proportion as neighbouring structures. A furnished showflat with built-in package was conceived by local firm WH Furniture and is available to all residents upon request. The Fountainside’s units start at approximately HK$10,000 per square foot.
“The Buffer Zone was set up to protect the core,” explains Dr Hoyin Lee, assistant professor and director of The University of Hong Kong’s Architectural Conservation master programme. At the start of every academic year, Lee along with colleagues Dr Lynne DiStefano and Katie Cummer lead a fresh batch of students to Macau to study the various tangible and intangible components that make up its World Heritage status. “Within the Buffer Zone, new construction should respect criteria that will reduce its visual impact. The first is height and the second is scale; not planned, but the perceived scale, as the streetscape is important. The Fountainside meets these criteria with a street level frontage that is sensitive to its surroundings. It is taller than its neighbours, but not by much, thereby reducing its impact.”
Bling is Bad
Lee compares The Fountainside to the Grand Lisboa hotel, a development that technically falls outside of the Buffer Zone but is within close proximity to the UNESCO site boundaries. Its size, its exterior lighting (rumoured to be the most on any building in the world) and its blatant disregard for the urban context where it sits has appalled conservationists ever since it was first unveiled. “The Grand Lisboa’s scale and height overwhelm what’s in the core and undermines the efforts made to protect its historical significance. Since 2014, planning regulations have changed. Conservation efforts are done based on planning following the Shanghai model, resulting in land in UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Buffer Zones having higher priority and more restrictions.”
Lee emphasises that while change is inevitable in Macau, having a Buffer Zone allows its long time residents time to adjust to the evolving cityscape they find themselves in. “Conservation is not about stopping change but about managing the pace of change. It buys time for people to slowly accept changes. The visual ambience of a neighbourhood should evolve rather than change overnight. Developments such as the Fountainside will accelerate the gentrification of the street and bring in similar commercial activities. It will start a development trend — and then we are back to the question of scale.”
For residential developments to be successful in Buffer Zones while minimising impact upon the protected site, Lee feels that they must be exclusive. “They should be boutique, special and priced high. Developers should use the heritage aspect as a selling point, make them super expensive and luxurious, with fewer units. But they should avoid ‘facadomy’, a popular trend 40 years ago where just the façade was historic. That’s not what conservation is about.”