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At the start of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a colony of the British Empire, an impoverished port of minor importance, one of several outposts on the coast of China from which the British conducted and protected their trading activities in the region. By the end of the century, Hong Kong rose to surpass most countries of the world in terms of wealth, trading volume, and financial stature. Limited by land and sea borders, with largely hilly terrain, Hong Kong has from the start relied on reclamation to create buildable land: throughout the century, reclamation created more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) for buildings and infrastructure, most of it around the harbor. Because reclamation is an expensive process, high-density solutions have been the assumed strategies for accommodating the expanding population and economy. It is in the realm of high-density designs that Hong Kong has contributed notably in the 20th century.

Noteworthy architectural structures in the colony in 1900 were the Hong Kong Club (1897, demolished 1981) and the governor's summer residence, Mountain Lodge (1902, demolished 1946), both designed by a local architectural and engineering practice, Palmer Turner. The other significant local practice of the time was Leigh and Orange, designers of Prince's Building (1901), Queen's Building (1902), and the University of Hong Kong (1912). These architecturally hybrid buildings were created in the colonial image using architectural vocabulary current in London, although perhaps more liberally combined than Home County taste may have permitted. Other important buildings of that time include the granite Supreme Court (1912, Aston Webb and E. Ingress Bell as consultants to the Colonial Office), demonstrating in architectural form the British legal dominion, and the General Post Office (1911, Denison, Ram and Gibbs) in polychromatic Amoy red brick and local granite. High densities existed in the urban situation from early on, leading to typical problems in sanitation and public health. After a plague in 1894, authorities looked to urban improvements to prevent a recurrence and enacted the Public Health and Buildings Ordinance of 1903 (not amended until 1932). From this arose a typical building form of a three to five-story apartment building, ornamented on the street facades with engaged columns, perhaps with deep-shading verandas or street-level arcades to provide relief from the summer sun; a fine extant example is Lui Seng Chun (1934, architect unknown). These tight urban blocks surrounded by narrow streets, captured in movies such as "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" (1955) and "The World of Suzie Wong" (1961), typified the streetscape of urban Hong Kong until the 1960s. Although largely demolished in the third quarter of the century, one example of a commercial building that survived to the end of the century is Pedder Building (1932, Palmer Turner).

The first headquarters for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (1886, Palmer Turner) was replaced in 1935, again designed by Palmer Turner. Satisfying instructions from the chief manager of the bank to "build the best possible building regardless of cost," it was the tallest building between Cairo and San Francisco. An Art Deco tower (220 feet tall) flanked by two lower wings, the building was a leading example of technological applications in building. The stone-clad building was the first outside North America to use high-tensile (Chromador) steel throughout, achieving a comparatively lightweight structure. The tower was serviced by high-speed electric elevators, and the building was fully air-conditioned using a seawater cooling system and heating delivered internally in concealed panel systems. Several buildings from the same practice followed in this vein (Bank of China, 1950; Chartered Bank, 1959). The building was replaced in 1985 by Norman Foster's design, likewise a technologically significant building of its time. By the time this latest headquarters was completed, it represented the most expensive building in the world and became an icon for Hong Kong. In distinction to the massive concrete construction that typifies Hong Kong, Foster employed a highly articulated steel exoskeleton. The structure consists of five suspended-floor sections, each consisting of a central atrium dominated by escalators serving the floors in that section. A thin raised floor system serves all spaces with air conditioning, cabling, and power, providing for extreme flexibility in configuration. Reassembled restrooms and stair elements plugged into the building, and a computer-controlled sun scoop was designed to reflect light into the depths of the banking hall atrium.

In addition to the bank construction, the 1930s contributed other notable architecture, including the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club Grandstand with a clock tower and nearby mechanically ventilated stables (1932, both Palmer Turner, demolished), municipal market buildings in Wanchai (1936, Public Works Department) and Central (1937, Public Works Department) in the modernist style, and the circular Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (1939, Leigh and Orange) with its Art Deco interior. Although little of note was erected in Hong Kong between 1940 and 1960, a number of International Style explorations were erected in the 1960s. A new City Hall (1962, Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch of the Public Works Department) was erected on the reclaimed waterfront consisting of a walled garden flanked by a tall tower of offices and a library and a lower block to the north containing concert halls, exhibition spaces, and restaurants. The Hilton Hotel (1962, Palmer Turner), located on a busy corner of Garden Road and Queens Road Central, placed an L-shaped tower on a curved podium with cabanas around the swimming pool. This form spoke much about the start of the shift from colonial outpost to a minor city in the international circuit. St. George's Building (1969, F. Wong and W. Chu and Associates) is an elegant aluminum-clad building owing much to the Chicago School, and the H.K. Electric Company headquarters (1971, Palmer Turner, demolished 1998) presented as a bridge in reinforced concrete spanning a stream in a deep valley above Central District.

Hong Kong's place on the architectural map was marked in 1983 with the design by Zaha Hadid for the Peak Club. Although never realized, the building initiated a remarkable career for Hadid and demonstrated that there was interest in Hong Kong for architecture of international repute. This change was emphasized by the construction of the Hong Kong Club replacement (1984, Harry Seidler) with its prestressed 'T beams to create clear-span spaces within and expressed externally to present a structurally articulated facade to the central business district. Although municipal and institutional buildings have set the standards for much of architecture in Hong Kong, it is in the realm of housing that remarkable achievements were also made. Subjected to successive waves of refugees, housing became one of the defining issues in Hong Kong. Initially, the government's only intervention in housing was through ordinances to attempt to keep disease and safety in hand, defining a standard of 3.25 square meters of floor space and 9.34 cubic meters of volume per person. Private enterprise responded by erecting very dense tenements. The influx of refugees as a result of the civil wars in China following World War II led to large squatter settlements. It was a fire through one of these in December 1953 that led the government to initiate a massive building program for subsidized housing, resulting in the government itself becoming the largest residential developer in the world with annual production reaching a peak of 32,000 units in 1967. Most of these units were designed by the Hong Kong Housing Authority itself, although some were designed by private practitioners, as was Choi Hung Estate (1965, Palmer Turner). Starting with the Mark I H blocks in Shek Kip Mei in 1954, units were designed to 2.23 square meters per person.

The Mark VI type in 1969 increased this allowance back to 3.25 square meters. Although remarkable in its achievements for housing so many in so short a time frame, the program was pressed by the urgency to maximize output and lapsed into brutal forms and simplistic site plans. In addition to housing estates providing subsidized housing, population growth was absorbed by the establishment of new towns to divert pressure away from the urban concentration around the harbor. Influenced by the British Garden City movement, development started with three towns-Tsuen Wan (1950s) for 720,000 residents, Sha Tin (1970s) for 600,000 residents, and Tuen Mun (1970s) for 540,000 residents-and continued with six more in the last two decades, each coming to maturity in less than ten years. The typical typology is a substantial podium-focused design topped by tall point blocks, leaving urban spaces poorly resolved between the tall structures. Where they have succeeded is due to good high-capacity public transportation connections to existing urban centers. In later developments, we find the issues of high-density development being addressed more carefully. For example, Verbena Heights (1997, Anthony Ng) in the new town of Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung Crescent (1999, Anthony Ng) on Lantau near the new airport offer examples of environmentally conscious high-density designs for medium- to lower-cost units. Varied building heights capture prevailing winds and control solar angles to permit better natural ventilation and lighting, reducing energy consumption and improving microclimates in the tower blocks while also resolving very tall residential structures to the human scale at the ground level.

The harbor dominates Hong Kong both economically and physically. Throughout most of its history in the century, Hong Kong had no permeable land border-all contact was by air or sea. It is appropriate, therefore, that transportation-related architecture has found manifestation in two successful structures, both designed by partners of Spence Robinson, an expatriate firm founded in Shanghai that moved to Hong Kong in the 1930s. The first is Ocean Terminal (1966, Spence, Robinson, Prescott and Thornburrow, fatally marred by a renovation in the late 1980s), a three-level cruise ship pier and shopping center of elegant simplicity and detailing. The second interchange is the Shun Tak Centre and Macau Ferry Terminal (1986, Spence Robinson), a twin-tower transportation interchange that brings together high-speed ferries, buses, helicopters, and a connection to the underground train with hotel, residential, and office spaces standing on a commercial podium with two piers beyond, realizing proposals from the beginning of the century for the integration of transportation systems and building, form (for example, La Città Nuona, 1914, Sant'Elia).

With the center of Hong Kong crowded around the harbor, the shortage of land has dictated ever-taller structures, an "architecture of density," in which all manner of activities are accommodated. Legislation has enabled mixed-use zoning, such that commercial, residential, and manufacturing can be found within single structures. Examples include some unusual combinations of uses: multiuse markets and community centers, as in the Tsing Yi Complex (1999, Anthony Ng) with a wet market, library, and games hall organized around an internal street under a tensile roof, cemeteries and memorial halls, as in the Tsuen Wan Columbarium (1987, Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man); and warehouses, as in the Hong Kong International Distribution Centre (1992, LPT Architects and Planners), which offers storage space on seven levels and where vehicles can enter the building at the mezzanine level and drive up a 3.5-kilometer internal ramp to a rooftop waiting area for 400 trucks. Common throughout Hong Kong are podium structures with the lower three floors given over to commercial uses, often connected by sky bridges to neighboring podiums, creating layered urban space and highly segregated traffic flows. Steep slopes often demand ingenious solutions. Educational buildings that have succeeded are the University of Science and Technology (1992, Simon Kwan and Associates/Percy Thomas Associates), which resolves a complex program for a tertiary institution on a steep hillside, and the French International School (1984, Design Consultants Led) and the Hong Kong International School (1989, Design Consultants Led), which resolve primary and secondary school programs elegantly on tight, sloping sites.

By the end of the century, the skyline of the harbor of Hong Kong was flanked on the south (island) side by ever-taller office buildings against a backdrop of tall residential buildings working their way up to the Peak Club. Structures in Kowloon remained constrained in height by the needs of Kai Tak Airport. In 1970, the waterfront was again reclaimed from the harbor in Central, opening land for new construction, including Jardine House, formerly Connaught Centre (1973, Palmer Turner), with its distinctive circular portholes; at 52 stories, it was the tallest building in Asia for many years.

More land was made available for construction to the east of Central District when the British armed forces withdrew as part of the agreement in the run-up to the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. This land soon became a new financial and commercial center known as Admiralty with several notable buildings. The twin octagonal towers of Lippo Centre, formerly Bond Centre (1988, Paul Rudolph), with alternating cantilevered bays, form a distinctive centerpiece. Nearby, the Bank of China erected its local headquarters (1989, I.M. Pei), employing the geometry of a diagonally bisected cube to achieve a lightweight building of considerable height and a column-free interior. Also on this released land is Pacific Place (1988-91, Wong and Ouyang), a major shopping complex with three hotels and one office tower standing on a podium of four levels of shopping with parking below. To the south of the Bank of China is Citibank Plaza (1992, Rocco Yim), an intelligent building with centralized building management and raised floors throughout. With its stepped twin towers, it forms an urban forecourt to the Bank of China building. The major part of the barracks land was converted into Hong Kong Park, in which can be found the Aviary (1991, Ove Arup and Partners with Wong Tung and Partner). The British Consulate and British Council (1996, Terry Farrell) were given a significant location adjacent to both the park and Pacific Place for consular and cultural representation after the handover.

As the Central District expanded eastward across the released military land, it connected to Wan Chai and Causeway Bay districts beyond. Coupled with the construction of the underground rail system (the Mass Transit Railway), commercial facilities began to be erected along more of the waterfront. Central Plaza (1992, Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man), a Postmodernist interpretation of a 1930s Manhattan skyscraper, presents its 374-meter-tall brightly lit facade, the tallest reinforced-concrete structure in the world, topped by a neon-light timepiece that marks the quarter hours throughout the night by presenting various combinations of colors. As the airport was moved from its harbor location at Kai Tak to the remote northwestern location on Lantau Island in 1997, building regulations were relaxed in Kowloon to permit buildings of greater height (e.g., the Peninsula Hotel extension, 1995, Rocco Yim) as well as an increased application of architectural lighting. Although brightly festooned with neon previously, this relaxation rapidly changed the look for Hong Kong at night (e.g., The Centre, 1999, Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man) with its use of computer-controlled lights across its 73-story facade.

By the last decade, changing economics led to a greater demand for office space. The Hilton Hotel was replaced by the Cheung Kong Centre (1999, Cesar Pelli with Leo A. Daly) when property prices rendered office space more profitable than hotel use. A desire to establish an iconic image of the harbor led to the construction of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center (1997, Wong and Ouyang in association with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill), a multilevel rectilinear assemblage of exhibition spaces topped by massive sweeping roofs. The move of the airport led to substantial associated infrastructure construction and also set a new standard for architecture. The clarity of design and structural elegance of the Hong Kong International Airport Terminal (1997, Foster) could not be ignored. Hong Kong Station (1998, Rocco Yim in association with Arup Associates), the terminus of the airport railway, reflects the clarity of organization found at the airport terminal, with large voids connecting the upper-level shopping levels with the ticket hall, in-town check-in facilities, and the subterranean train platforms, covered by a sweeping roof coated in titanium. This terminus is flanked by One International Finance Centre (1998, Rocco Yim in association with Cesar Pelli), in which a circular podium resolves a complex pedestrian connection, topped by a faceted tower above. Across the harbor, a complex brief for commercial, residential, and transportation functions was resolved in the Kowloon Station (1998, Terry Farrell). The increased interest in technological solutions to architectural problems is also demonstrated in the Kadoorie Biological Sciences Building, University of Hong Kong (1999, Leigh and Orange), in which a double skin is employed to accommodate servicing needs and reduce energy consumption.

The century also saw the city move from a colonial British outpost to a world city within China. In order to make this change, the people of Hong Kong faced difficult questions of political and social identity. The architecture of Hong Kong reflected this struggle for identity and recognition. At the beginning of the century, colonial power was reflected in the classical language of all public and most major private buildings. Yet Hong Kong is a city in China, and its architecture has striven to express this reality. Although indigenous construction has continued (e.g., the walled village of Hakka Wai, 1904), Chinese architectural vocabulary was also used to place official and privately developed buildings into the local context (Tai Po Market Railway Station, 1913). Sometimes Chinese plan forms were adapted to Western elevations (St. Stephen's Girls College, 1929). The Chinese Methodist Church (1936, Mehlert) was a successful melding of vocabularies (replaced with a less successful church and office tower, 1997, Kwan and Associates Architects Ltd). Government House (1855, Charles St George Cleverly) morphed, starting the century as a Victorian residence and later being hybridized with Japanese forms to become the Japanese military governor's residence (1944, Seichi Fujimura).

Some architects tried to engage Chinese architectural language more directly; Tao Fung Shan (1934, Prip-Meller), a Lutheran religious study center, was designed after an extensive study of Buddhist monasteries throughout China but implemented a site layout owing much to the architect's Danish heritage. Although the architectural language was largely international by the end of the century, architects continued to interpret Chinese vocabulary into international form; for example, the Hong Kong Arts Centre (1977, Tao Ho) integrates Chinese philosophies with modern functions using Metabolist principles. The Peak Tram station, with its prominent location on the saddle on the ridge overlooking Central District, has been home to two interpretations of a Chinese gate. In 1972, Chung Wah Nan designed a heavy oval plan block on twin pillars, said to be a watchtower. This was replaced in 1996 by the upswept-dish form by Terry Farrell, in which the vocabulary of a temple (podium, columns, and sweeping roof) is used. Abandoning interpretation, a technically accurate replica of Tang-dynasty wooden construction was erected at the Chi Lin Nunnery (1998, Don Pan and Associates).



Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture,Vol.2 (G-O).  Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.

  1986, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters, Hong Kong, China, NORMAN FOSTER 
  1989, Bank of China, Hong Kong, CHINA, I.M. PEI 
  2011-2018, Tai Kwun, Centre for Heritage & Arts, Hong Kong, CHINA, HERZOG & DE MEURON 


  1986, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters, Hong Kong, China, NORMAN FOSTER
  1989, Bank of China, Hong Kong, CHINA, I.M. PEI
  1998, Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong, China, NORMAN FOSTER
  2011-2018, Tai Kwun, Centre for Heritage & Arts, Hong Kong, CHINA, HERZOG & DE MEURON




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*Hong Kong, in Presente y futures: Arquitectune en las cindades (exhib, cat.), edited by Ignasi de Sola-Morales and Xavier Costa, Barcelona: Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona. 1996; as Present and Futures Architecture in Cities (exhib. car.), translated by Mark Waudby, Barcelona: Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barociona, 1996

Lampugnani, Vitorio Magnago (editor), Hong Kong Architecture: The Aesthetics of Density, New York and Munich: Prestel, 1993

Pryor, Edward G.. Housing in Hong Kong, New York and Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1973: 2nd edition, New York Oxford University Press, 1983









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