In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture of Hong Kong

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Overviews Focusing on Architecture Since 1945
  • Digital Resources

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of Hong Kong
Johnathan Farris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0027


The architecture of Hong Kong is the built environment contained within the present-day Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, which also matches the former British Colony of Hong Kong at its largest extent. The region’s architecture, and the literature about it, can be divided into several phases. Pre–urban architecture of the territory consists of buildings built before the British occupation of Hong Kong Island in 1841, as well as later architecture produced in a traditional manner afterwards. This architecture is largely a regional vernacular reflection of broader Chinese traditions. The second phase of Hong Kong architecture is the early colonial phase, from the British cession of the island, through the expansion of the territory to include Kowloon in 1860 and the New Territories in 1898, up to the Second World War. This phase is characterized by the importation of Western building types and technologies and the implementation of colonial planning in the shaping of the city. This era can be subdivided into an initial commercially driven and fairly organic phase, a reshaping of key aspects of the city from around the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and a third phase of subsequent transformation in the early 20th century defined by increasing influence of technologies such as concrete and electricity. Hong Kong’s architecture can also be neatly subdivided into two eras since the Second World War. The 1940s through the 1970s were characterized by rebuilding after war and the Japanese occupation, and dramatic expansion, particularly needed to accommodate a massive influx of population in the form of refugees from mainland China. In reaction to the latter, the development of public housing estates and the eventual founding of new towns is particularly significant in the history of Hong Kong. The immediate postwar phase is also accompanied by industrial growth. Around 1980, the city’s economic transformation from a manufacturing center to a hub of global commerce and investment would also have dramatic repercussions. The creation of landmark corporate modernist buildings by globally renowned architects in the 1980s, followed by an intensification of real estate speculation, sets the tone for the city of high-rise architecture that exists today.

General Overviews

A definitive and comprehensive volume covering Hong Kong’s architectural history is, unfortunately, yet to be written. The most general overviews tend to be focused on specific issues reflecting their authors’ principle interests. For a broad view of the shaping of Hong Kong’s urban form from 1841 to the present, Shelton, et al. 2011 provides the best recent effort. For a sense of cultural landscapes in the territory which includes some pre-urban ones, Nicolson 2016 is the best starting point. Walker and Rowlinson 1990 provides the broadest overview of the history of building practices in the territory.

  • Nicolson, Ken. Landscapes Lost and Found: Appreciating Hong Kong’s Heritage Cultural Landscapes. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789622093393.001.0001

    A brief guide to and argument for preserving Hong Kong’s cultural landscapes, from gardens to villages and rural fields, to urban commercial streets.

  • Shelton, Barrie, Justyna Karakiewicz, and Thomas Kvan. The Making of Hong Kong: From Vertical to Volumetric. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

    This volume discusses the trends in and changes to Hong Kong’s urban form across its colonial and modern history. Though probably one of the most accurate summaries of the history of the city’s urban form, it does tend to ignore the role conflict has played and continues to play in the city’s development.

  • Walker, Anthony, and Stephen M. Rowlinson. The Building of Hong Kong: Constructing Hong Kong Through the Ages. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1990.

    This is a fairly comprehensive history of building (focusing on the building industry rather than design) in colonial Hong Kong up to its date of publication.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.