Regular teaching staff at the University of Hong Kong like to run away from school each summer, leaving me to develop a regular Summer School programme for the visiting Architects and Engineers of Penn State University. The plan is to give some detailed contextual background about Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta development that they can utilise in their Design Studio project.
Map of Tour Route
Alternative Architecture Tour Itinerary
1. Wong Tai Sin Temple
2. Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate
3. Tung Tau Estate
4. Nga Sin Wai Tsuen (14C)
5. Kowloon Walled City Park (1995)
6. Mei Tung Estate
7. Hau Wong Temple (1730)
8. Grampian Road
9. Kowloon City
Hong Kong has a totally unique growth and development situation that is complex and surprising to arriving students and needs a bit of unravelling for them. Once they have overcome the initial “wow” of the usual tourist, we need to get them to rapidly understand the historical and cultural influences that have so shaped the city today. To do that, I like to get away from the lecture theatre and to walk the streets, tracks and squares of the ‘alternative city’.
Many of my alternative tours focus on housing (or lack of it), as it continues to be the most important shaper of the city, despite the focus on tall, shiny, corporate edifices that dominate the central skyline. Step away from HK Island and we can get to grips with the realities of Hong Kong. I like to bring the students to visit the public housing schemes of Kowloon and the New Territories in particular. Here they are able to learn about how it forms a major component of housing in Hong Kong, with nearly half of the population now residing in some form of public housing.
The public housing policy dates to 1953, when a fire in Shek Kip Mei destroyed the makeshift homes of refugees from Mainland China,, leaving 53,000 people homeless and prompting the government to begin constructing homes for the poor. The Shek Kip Mei Estate, ready for occupation in 1954, was the first tangible manifestation of this policy. In those early days, housing units were little more than small cubicles, and the original plan was to allocate 24 square feet per adult and half that for each child under 12. However, they were in reality often occupied by more than one family, due to the extreme shortage of available housing. Facilities and sanitation were rudimentary and communal.
Today, Shep Kip Mei Estate has been extensively redeveloped but I like to start my alternative tour at nearby Wong Tai Sin, where students can start with a visit to the urban oasis of Sik Sik Yuen Temple to gain some cultural background and gently survey the enveloping housing blocks of Upper and Lower Wong Tai Sin Estates. Formerly called Wong Tai Sin Resettlement Estate, Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate had 29 blocks built between the 1950s and 1960s with a total population of 97,000 at that time. Between the 1980s and 1990s, all old blocks were demolished to reconstruct new blocks with a wide variety of the standardised models used by the Housing Authority.
A walk south through Lower Wong Tai Sin to Tung Tau Estates leads to Nga Tsin Wai Walled Village. The village was probably established by the Ng, Chan and Lee clans in the mid 14th century. They built a Tin Hau Temple around 1352 and the fortified village around 1724. Although it is hard to image now, Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen once stood on the southern Kowloon shore and is the only walled village left in the urban built-up areas of Hong Kong. However since 2007 The Urban Renewal Authority has been acquiring land to redevelop the village. Their approach is “to preserve the three relics of the village, namely the village gatehouse, the embedded stone tablet and the Tin Hau Temple whilst using a central axis linking them in the walled village setting to manifest the ambience of the 600 year old village whilst residential redevelopment could proceed in parallel. Though there are still one or two residents living in the village, most have accepted this proposal and the government’s compensation package and moved out willingly. Many residents admit they are glad of the chance to move into more comfortable accommodation. But there is still anger that a village with 600 years of history has been allowed to slide into such a state of disrepair that many of the buildings are now too dilapidated to save. The conservation plans have been criticised as half-hearted by some – a token gesture in place of the government’s failure to preserve the village in its entirety.
Further through Tung Tau Estate and Kowloon Walled City Park can be reached. A wonderful tourist destination but little frequented by the nearby shopping hordes of Mong Kok. The park occupies the site of the notorious Kowloon Walled City, finally fully demolished in 1994 and retains a few artefacts from the old Walled City, including its administrative ‘Yamen’ building, now used as a visitor centre. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was controlled by Triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling, and drug use. In 1987, the Walled City contained an unbelievable 33,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare (0.01 sq mile) borders.
Numerous valuable heritage items were lost in the carefree demolition; however a Japanese research team did manage to map the interior of the city settlement and produced a wonderful scale model, plans and sections, which are on display at the Yamen. The tangle of activities and spaces show an existence of incredible complexity and spatial relationship to the inhabitants’ surroundings. The City's dozens of alleyways were often only 1–2 m wide, and had poor lighting and drainage. An informal network of staircases and passageways also formed on upper levels, which was so extensive that one could travel north to south through the entire City without ever touching solid ground. Construction in the City went unregulated, and most of the roughly 350 buildings were built with poor foundations and few or no utilities. Because apartments were so small — a typical unit was 23 m2 (250 sq ft) — space was maximised with wider upper floors, caged balconies, and rooftop additions. Roofs in the City were full of television antennae, clothes lines, water tanks, and rubbish, and could be crossed using a series of ladders.
Overlooking the Walled Park is Mei Tung Estate. It consists of 2 Old Slab type buildings, each of 8-stories and provides over 600 flats. The Estate Management were good enough on my last visit to let us in to Mei Tung House, built in 1974, to show the students the living conditions of the tenants in their single room dwellings. The low floor to floor height means the tall foreign students continually bumped their heads on cross beams.
Boardering the Estate on Junction Road is the Hau Wang Temple, built in 1730 and crafted to commemorate a Chinese general who had helped the last Song Dynasty (960–1279) Emperor escape invading forces to Kowloon. The temple is home to a wealth of cultural artefacts, including groups of ceramic reliefs on the walls, Chinese calligraphy and a number of plaques. The temple is a Grade I historic building.
Crossing Junction Road brings you into the district surrounding Grampian Road. Here are collected a number of mansions and institutions established by wealthy Chinese who were not allowed to establish in Hong Kong itself and so developed this area immediately to the north of Boundary Street, which historically marks the boundary between the southern part of Kowloon, ceded by Qing China to Great Britain in 1860 and the northern part of Kowloon (New Kowloon), which remained part of China until it was leased as part of the New Territories to the United Kingdom in 1898 for 99 years under the Second Convention of Peking. New Kowloon is no longer regarded as part of the New Territories, but as a part of the Kowloon urban area beyond Boundary Street. Nevertheless, the legal definitions of Kowloon, New Kowloon and New Territories remain unchanged and privately owned land in New Kowloon is held by way of a land lease from the Hong Kong government, and is thereby subject to rent payments.
The tour bring its conclusion back across Junction Road in the dense grid layout of Kowloon City, where the iconic photographs of jet planes landing just overhead at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport are recorded. High-rise buildings have started to be built here following the relocation of the Airport to Chek Lap Kok and this district is in rapid change and gentrification, with slender modern residential towers sprouting from a dilapidated base. Remember it this way whist you still can. This is the perfect place to rest up as a plethora of inexpensive and often family-run eateries serve up local favourites.
 Census and Statistics Department – Population by type of housing
 Choi, Barry (30 June 1975). "Housing means more than a roof" (http:/ / sunzi1. lib. hku. hk/ newspaper/ view/ 12_01. 01/ 113571. pdf)
(PDF). South China Morning Post. . Retrieved 7 February 2007.
 Choi, Barry (14 October 1978). "Focus on small flats" (http:/ / sunzi1. lib. hku. hk/ newspaper/ view/ 12_09. 01/ 78. pdf) (PDF). South China Morning Post. . Retrieved 7 February 2007.
 Choi, Barry (13 August 1973). "Vital task is to satisfy slum dwellers who see luxury on doorstep" (http:/ / sunzi1. lib. hku. hk/ newspaper/view/ 12_07. 01/ 117197. pdf) (PDF). South China Morning Post. . Retrieved 7 February 2007.
 Legislative Council Nga Tsin Wai Village Project, 2007
 Welcome to 18 Districts - Wong Tai Sin District
 Urban Renewal Authority
 Wesley-Smith, Peter (1998). Unequal treaty, 1898–1997: China, Great Britain, and Hong Kong's new territories (Rev. ed.). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
 Lambot, Ian, ed. (September 2007). City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City. Watermark. ISBN 978-1-873200-13-1.
 Basler, Barbara (16 June 1992). "The Walled City, Home to Huddled Masses, Falls". The New York Times. p. A4. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
 Popham, Peter. "Introduction". In City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City. pp. 9–13.
 List of Graded Historic Buildings in Hong Kong
Summer School: American Students Visit Hong Kong
Summer School: American Students Visit Hong Kong