Hong Kong Villages
by Ian Morley
When the British occupied a "barren rock" following the First Opium War in 1841, Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston was "greatly mortified and disappointed" at the island's perceived worthlessness. Since then, however, Hong Kong has become one of the world's most important entrepreneurial, architectural, banking, and trading centers.
From just a few thousand residents at the time of the handover to the British, Hong Kong's population has grown to nearly seven million people living in one of the world's most important trading economies. Significantly, these people reside within an area of just 390 square miles (1,000 square kilometers). Urban densities are among the highest in the world because much of the land within Hong Kong's bounds consists of hundreds of remote islands and terrain too mountainous to build on.
While great attention has been given to Hong Kong's highrise corporate architecture, less has been given to "new-town" community development within the New Territories or the traditional villages beyond.
The concept of "new towns" in the postindustrial urban context is a late-19th-century phenomenon and originates from Ebenezer Howard's idea of the garden city as a radical solution to urban problems. Historically, new towns in Southeast Asia have been integral governmental devices to promote housing and industrial progress while reducing urbanization pressures by decentralizing employment and population.
New-town construction and planning first came to Hong Kong in the 1920s when the government proposed a house and garden project in Ho Man Tin. Interest was rekindled after World War II by the work of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, a garden city enthusiast, considered a father of regional planning thanks to his Greater London Regional Plan of 1944.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...
The Central District of Hong Kong Island, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, as seen from The Peak.
Photo: Ian Morley
Less familiar Hong Kong architecture: a traditional courtyard building in Tsang Tai Uk.
Photo: Ian Morley
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.