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

Introduction

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/9789622093393.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

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

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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Overviews Focusing on Architecture Since 1945

There are more numerous overviews of modern and contemporary Hong Kong architecture, but they tend, like Cheung and Yeoh 1998 and Koor 2006, to be written for a popular audience (albeit still useful as guides in the field if one should be out exploring the city). Works like Collis and Chung 1989 and Lampugnani 1993 survey major modern monuments of Hong Kong architecture largely from a designer’s point of view. Xue 2016 is the most successful at putting modern and contemporary Hong Kong architecture into historic and cultural context.

  • Cheung, Juanita, and Andrew Yeoh. Hong Kong: A Guide to Recent Architecture. London: Ellipsis London Ltd, 1998.

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    A compact and popular pocket field guide (alas without citations or bibliography) which, however, is a useful text for touring major contemporary works of architecture.

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  • Collis, Robert H., and Wah Nan Chung. Contemporary Architecture in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co., Ltd, 1989.

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    A work featuring a broad introduction from an architect’s point of view, two essays by public officials on housing and new towns, and a selection of small monographic essays with ample illustrations of major architectural work from the 1960s to the 1980s.

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  • Koor, Anna. Hong Kong Architecture and Design. Edited by Katharina Feuer. Kempen, Germany: teNeues, 2006.

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    A nonacademic pocket guide to contemporary projects, with an emphasis on trendy design. Lacks citations or bibliography.

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  • Lampugnani, Vittorio Magnago, ed. Hong Kong Architecture: The Aesthetics of Density. Munich and New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1993.

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    A work focused on major monuments of Hong Kong architecture during the era of the city’s ascendance as a financial center (1980s through the early 1990s), although it does contain one essay which attempts a broad overview of the city’s architecture.

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  • Xue, Charlie Q. L. Hong Kong Architecture 1945–2015: From Colonial to Global. Singapore: Springer Science + Business Media, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-981-10-1004-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A broad-brush treatment of major trends in Hong Kong architecture since the Second World War, largely using economic and infrastructural factors as the lens through which to view the topic.

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Monographs

Books addressing specific sites or issues within Hong Kong’s architectural history can largely be sorted into three main themes. One category is produced by architectural historians, historic preservationists, and other scholars who concern themselves with traditional Chinese architecture. Another category is produced by those with specific interests in a building or type of building found within the city. A third category—it must be said characteristically produced by those connected with the architectural profession—dwells on the history of architects and builders in the city.

Works on Traditional Chinese Architecture

Ho 1995 is a good general introduction to specific characteristics of South Chinese vernacular architecture, which is necessary for understanding its manifestations within Hong Kong. Bosco and Ho 1999 is the best examination of Hong Kong’s most typical category of traditional Chinese temple. Department of Architecture, Hong Kong University 1999, on the other hand, is chiefly a highly detailed visual resource recording important traditional structures within the city.

  • Bosco, John, and Ho Puay-Peng. Temples of the Empress of Heaven. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Broader in its scope than just Hong Kong, this small but engaging work explores temples of the most popular deity in coastal South China. It is an essential work to understanding the dozens of such temples in Hong Kong.

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  • Department of Architecture, Hong Kong University. Measured Drawings: Volume 1, Hong Kong Historical Chinese Buildings. Edited by Wong Wah Sang and Amy Liu. Hong Kong: Pace Publishing, Ltd, 1999.

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    Very fine measured drawings. with very brief introductions, of twenty-six important Chinese buildings.

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  • Ho Puay-Peng. The Living Building: Vernacular Environments of South China. Hong Kong: Department of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1995.

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    A much broader, if compact, treatment of the vernacular architectures of Guangdong and Fujian provinces, which will help contextualize traditional buildings found in Hong Kong.

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Works Focused on a Specific Sites or Types

Among works concerning a specific site, Kowloon Walled City, which captured the imaginations of many who experienced it before its demolition, serves as a topic for many works, among them Miyamoto 1997 and Pullinger 1989, but most are of a romantic rather than analytical disposition. HSBC’s Headquarters in Central has also been synonymous with the city since the bank’s inception and is the topic of Lambot and Chambers 1986. Hong Kong’s colonial cemetery has also generated broad interest; the most design-oriented treatment of it is Nicolson 2010. Among works which concern themselves with types are Wojtowicz 1984, treating the now vanished phenomenon of illegal facades, and Al 2016, which brings together many authors to tackle the far from vanished type of the contemporary shopping mall.

Works on Architects and Builders

Monographs or collections on architects and builders working in Hong Kong are surprisingly few compared to the form givers of many other cities. To be sure, ink has been spilled on Palmer & Turner, one of Hong Kong’s earliest professional architectural offices but also a firm which still survives today (see Davies 2008 and Purvis and Warner 1985). The study of Hong Kong’s first-generation professional Chinese architects is an emerging field, with Denison and Ren 2014 and Ng and Chu 2007 leading the way. Ho 2010 and Walker 1995 are important contributions to Hong Kong architectural history from the contractor and builder’s point of view.

Chapters in Anthologies, Surveys, and Proceedings

One of the best places to find thoughtful academic writing relating to Hong Kong architecture is in book chapters not specific to Hong Kong, but which address broader issues such as the architecture of China, Asia, the British Empire, and port cities (or cities generally).

Works on Traditional Chinese Architecture

Book chapters featuring traditional Chinese architecture in Hong Kong often concern themselves with types, such as housing in Faure 2005 and Knapp 2005; temples (or in particular the special type of the ancestral hall) in Ho 2005; or village complexes, such as those examined in Hase and Lee 1992. This type of scholarship, it should be noted, is produced not only by architectural historians, but also by anthropologists and geographers.

  • Faure, David. “Between House and Home: The Family in South China.” In House, Home, Family: Living and Being Chinese. Edited by Ronald G. Knapp and Kai-Yin Lo. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005.

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    Although broader in scope than Hong Kong, an important chapter for understanding the role of the extended family in the traditional Chinese architecture of the territory.

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  • Hase, Patrick H., and Lee Man-yip. “Sheung Wo Hang Village, Hong Kong: A Village Shaped by Fengshui.” In Chinese Landscapes: The Village as Place. Edited by Ronald G. Knapp. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.

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    On the structure and fengshui influences in a traditional Hakka ethnicity village in the northeastern New Territories.

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  • Ho Puay-Peng. “Ancestral Halls: Family, Lineage, and Ritual.” In House, Home, Family: Living and Being Chinese. Edited by Ronald G. Knapp and Kai-Yin Lo. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005.

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    Although broader in scope than Hong Kong, an essential article in understanding the role of ancestral halls in Cantonese culture, and the particular examples still extant in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

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  • Knapp, Ronald G. “A Mandarin’s Mansion in Hong Kong: Man Chung-luen’s Residence.” In Chinese Houses: The Architectural Heritage of a Nation. Edited by Ronald G. Knapp, 202–209. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

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    A discussion of the Tai Fu Tai, probably Hong Kong’s most distinguished traditional Cantonese courtyard house.

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Works on Colonial Hong Kong Architecture to the Mid-20th Century

Book chapters on architecture from Hong Kong’s early colonial period (up to around the mid-20th century) tend to be produced by scholars specifically of architectural and urban history, mostly with an interest in colonial environments. That said, they concern themselves with varied subject matter, including building types (as in Chey 2018 and Chu 2012); individual monuments (as in Bremner 2013 and Cunich 2013); or broader issues in what shapes urban form (as in Chu 2013, Farris 2018, and Hunt 2014).

  • Bremner, G. A. “Fabricating Justice: Conflict and Contradiction in the Making of the Hong Kong Supreme Court, 1898–1912.” In Harbin to Hanoi: The Colonial Built Environment in Asia, 1840 to 1940. Edited by Laura Victoir and Victor Zatsepine, 151–180. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

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    A well-researched treatment of Hong Kong’s still extant Edwardian courts building in Central.

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  • Chey, Katy. “Hong Kong: Circa 1840 to 1960: Hong Kong Tong Lau.” In Multi-Unit Housing in Urban Cities. By Katy Chey, 113–135. New York and London: Routledge, 2018.

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    A study of the tong lau or shop house, which made up a great deal of the city’s urban fabric in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It discusses both the type and changes to it over time.

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  • Chu, Cecilia. “Between Typologies and Representation: The Tong Lau and the Discourse of the ‘Chinese House’ in Colonial Hong Kong.” In Colonial Frames, Nationalist Histories: Imperial Legacies, Architecture, and Modernity. Edited by Mrinalini Rajagopalan and Madhuri Desai, 253–285. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    A fine-grained analysis of the building type and its implications in the colonial cityscape.

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  • Chu, Cecilia. “Combating Nuisance: Sanitation, Regulation, and the Politics of Property in Colonial Hong Kong.” In Imperial Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene, and the Cultures of Planning in Asia. Edited by Robert Peckham and David M. Pomfret, 17–37. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

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    An in-depth examination of three 19th-century controversies that related sanitation and property rights in the history of the city’s land use planning.

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  • Cunich, Peter. “Making Space for Higher Education in Colonial Hong Kong, 1887–1913.” In Harbin to Hanoi: The Colonial Built Environment in Asia, 1840 to 1940. Edited by Laura Victoir and Victor Zatsepine, 181–207. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888139415.003.0009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise discussion of early ideas about building for higher education in Hong Kong, with special emphasis on the University of Hong Kong’s old main building.

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  • Farris, Johnathan. “Contingency and Opportunity: The First Century of Hong Kong’s Public Parks.” In Yokohama 2018: Proceedings of the 18th IPHS Conference: Looking at the History of World Planning, 15th July 2018. Yokohama: International Planning History Society, 2018.

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    An article addressing why some parks planned in Hong Kong’s first hundred years succeeded while others failed or were compromised.

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  • Hunt, Tristram. “Hong Kong.” In Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World. By Tristram Hunt, 223–261. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.

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    A chapter in a larger attempt to discuss the legacy of the British Empire through a series of geographically diverse urban histories.

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Works on Modern and Contemporary Issues in Hong Kong Architecture

Some of the most provocative book chapters deal with contemporary Hong Kong and its politics. One notable trend is an interest in how the government uses the urban fabric in official image making, as treated in Cody 2002 and Yiu 2011, and how this is at times challenged or subverted, as treated by Lam and Tavecchia 2014.

  • Cody, Jeffrey W. “Heritage as Hologram: Hong Kong after a Change in Sovereignty, 1997–2001.” In The Disappearing ‘Asian’ City: Protecting Asia’s Urban Heritage in a Globalizing World. Edited by William S. Logan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    A thorough overview of the problems of historic preservation in Hong Kong at the dawn of the 21st century.

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  • Jackson, Ashley. “Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Hong Kong.” In Buildings of Empire. By Ashley Jackson, 220–235. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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    An overview of the history of HSBC’s current headquarters building in Central.

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  • Lam, Tat, and Benedetta Tavecchia. “Taxonomy of Public Space in Contemporary Hong Kong.” In Public Space in Urban Asia. Edited by William S. W. Lim. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2014.

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    A summary of recent discourses regarding the boundaries of public and private space in early-21st-century Hong Kong history before 2014.

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  • Yiu, Marisa. “Hong Kong’s Global Image Campaign: Port City Transformation from British Colony to Special Administrative Region of China.” In Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks. Edited by Carola Hein. New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    A chapter covering the Trade Development Council’s role in shaping and portraying the city’s waterfront as favorable to global manufacturing and trade.

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Journal Articles

By their very nature, journal articles tend to allow for a tighter focus in subject matter. Interestingly, in terms of the study of the Hong Kong built environment, there seems to be a contrast between the two main fields of publication. Articles on colonial Hong Kong architecture to the mid-20th century tend to dwell on specific sites, or the evolution of professional practice. On the other hand, many articles with a more early-21st-century temporal focus particularly dwell on how government policy succeeds or fails to address sociopolitical issues with the SAR.

Works on Colonial Hong Kong Architecture to the Mid-20th Century

Articles on Hong Kong architecture up through the mid-20th century often focus on specific buildings and sites, such as in Coomans 2016, Griffiths 1988, Lai and Chua 2018, Lang 2017, and Le Pichon 2009. This of course is a typical and important part of architectural history generally, and represents the building blocks out of which broader discussion must emerge. Other articles have particularly concerned themselves with the emergence of professional designers, such as in Lau 2014 and Xue, et al. 2012, which is always a topic of interest to contemporary professional designers, but also helps through a more biographical focus to make important connections between local and global architectural trends.

Works on Modern and Contemporary Issues in Hong Kong Architecture

Journal Articles focusing on modern and contemporary Hong Kong architecture seem particularly to be drawn to issues of successes and failures of government policy. Since the territory’s urban form is dictated by a distinctive balance of laissez-faire capitalism and vigorous government intervention, it provides a laboratory for considering successes, often in practical terms as outlined in Glendinning 2014, as well as failures, often in sociocultural terms as outlined in Chun 2013, Ip 2013, Lange 2016, and Lin 2014. Other articles simply offer fascinating accounts of conflict and negotiation, such as in Ku 2010 and Teather 1999.

Digital Resources

The Antiquities and Monuments Office website is probably the most reliable source for a survey of still-extant historic buildings in the territory and maintains the rankings used in categorizing historical significance. It will also, however, be a website which reflects the official government agenda in prioritizing which resources are important, rather than being a wholly objective resource. The Docomomo Hong Kong website is anticipated to be an ever-expanding resource maintained by professionals fully engaged in championing Hong Kong’s modern architectural heritage.

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