Hong Kong's Public Housing Heritage


Like public housing projects worldwide, Hong Kong's emerged post-disaster, shaped by political, economic, and social factors. The Shek Kip Mei Fire of 1953, displacing 53,000 people, prompted swift action from the colonial government, leading to the creation of standardized provisional bungalows and later multi-storey resettlement blocks.

Tsui Lam Estate built in 1988 in Sai Kung District, New Territories. ©Zupagrafika

However, recent studies reveal that public housing policies predate the fire, with proposals dating back to the pre-WWII era. Despite this, the fire catalyzed further developments, including the establishment of the Hong Kong Housing Authority in 1954. Private architectural practices, commissioned due to a shortage of government architects, contributed to early projects like the North Point Estate (1957) and So Uk Estate (1960).

‘The generous use of public spaces and amenities in these designs allowed the estates to sustain the daily lives of their inhabitants, each creating a world of its own within the larger fabric of the city.’
The inhabitants of Kai Hang Lau House, Cho Yiu Chuen, can access their flatsthrough the ‘streets in the sky’. ©Zupagrafika

The communal quality of these early estates is widely praised and serves as a contrast to modern designs. NGOs also played a vital role, adding diversity to early designs. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a growing population and a shortage of land led to the development of new building types with higher occupation densities.

The whimsical carpark rooftop of LokWah South Estate, built in 1982 in theKwun Tong District of Kowloon. ©Zupagrafika

However, ‘housing estate boys/girls’ (屋村仔/屋村妹), a term referring to those living in public housing, also implies resilience; the term describes people who have experienced hardships and learned to thrive in difficult situations.

Paper model of Choi Hung Estate. ©Zupagrafika

For the readers of Concrete Hong Kong, the examples presented here are invitations into the worlds of these ‘housing estate boys/girls’ to explore the unique living environments and diverse architectural languages found in Hong Kong’s public housing estates.

All images featured in this post are extracted from the book Concrete Hong Kong (Zupagrafika, 2023). Text excerpt from the foreword to the book by Charles Lai
Photography: David Navarro & Martyna Sobecka © Zupagrafika
All text and images are © Zupagrafika. Unauthorized use or reproduction of any content is not permitted.

Written by
Charles Lai

Text and images © Zupagrafika

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