Header image courtesy of @mcheung888 (via Instagram)
They are everywhere, half of us go in and out of them daily, yet they are often overlooked. Public housing estates in Hong Kong are incredibly densely populated, making for ingenious space-organising solutions that take on clever and unique architectural designs. Blink and you’ll (almost) miss it—here are the most photogenic housing estates around Hong Kong for awe-worthy snaps.
Structured as a “little town within a city,” this neatly stacked cube plays host to 6,200 families and an entire ecosystem of living amenities. Glance up (or down) at the quadrangular arrangement and marvel at the “model estate in Kowloon” presented to Queen Elizabeth II’s during her visit to Hong Kong in 1975.
This open, angled symmetry provides mesmerising lines, funnelling out into a squared tunnel for you to capture. Once you’re happy with your photos, why not walk a few steps down to the Oi Man Estate market for a quite bite at one of the many nitty gritty dim sum stalls? Or better yet, go further down out to Hau Man Street for a bite at the nearby “mushroom hut” pavilion—aptly named due to the shape of the restaurant shacks—of cheap and tasty eats.
Oi Man Estate, 60 Chung Hau Street, Ho Man Tin
Not merely popular amongst other public housing, this estate has gained worldwide fame as one of the most photographed sites in all of Hong Kong. Finished since 1963, it has drawn in many legendary visitors, including Princess Margaret and Princess Alexandra of the British royal family, as well as ex-United States President Richard Nixon decades ago.
Reflecting its namesake, a striking rainbow (彩虹; coi2 hung4) palette is painted across the outside of the apartment blocks, forming a gradual progression from top to bottom. A basketball court sits in front of the miter joint of buildings, allowing for a shot that shows multicolour streaks enveloping a foregrounded subject of choice.
Choi Hung Estate, 2 Tse Wai Avenue, Ngau Chi Wan
Full of nostalgia, this collection of apartments melds traces of old Hong Kong with vibrant forms evocative of childhood memories. Enter through the estate wet market and trudge through scenes of everyday life shrouded in dimmed chiaroscuro lighting. Nam Shan Estate itself shows the Housing Authority issued new slab style, in which long corridors run along each floor between flats to create orderly straight lines.
There is a playground lot not far up from the market, there you will find the most popular area for shoots. Stretching out in front of the rows of windows and front doors, there lies on each side a squared green plot of rubber playground surfacing, under an arrangement of small monkey bars. Nearby is a life-sized flying airplane chess board painted in vivid primary colours, perfect for aerial shots and a quick match.
Nam Shan Estate, 111 Tai Hang Tung Road, Shek Kip Mei
With a view of Victoria Harbour from the slopes of the mezzanine level, it is no wonder that this is one of the more famous (and expensive) public housing estates in Hong Kong.
Completed in 1975, these giant award-winning silos are known for their unconventional cylindrical shape, providing a unique living space which totals up to 2,677 flats. Rows upon rows of circles spiral out into the sky, providing fascinating layers of rings to photograph from the inside. The open space from the top allows for natural lighting to fall easily, making the building both energy efficient and giving it the right brightness to add some levels in exposure.
Not only have these spellbinding buildings graced the Instagram pages of novice and professional photographers who visit, it has also shown up on the silver screen as a backdrop for Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell and Dumplings by Fruit Chan.
Lai Tak Tsuen, 2–38 Lai Tak Tsuen Road, Tai Hang, Causeway Bay
A place that has its fair share of being in the spotlight, Monster Building has operated as a set for music videos as well as heavy duty blockbusters such as Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Despite the name, this entire block is actually an aggregate of five interconnected residential buildings—Oceanic Mansion, Fook Cheong Building, Montane Mansion, Yick Cheong Building, and Yick Fat Building. The rectangular sectioning adds to the already densely packed tapestry of cramped apartments, resembling an inward facing panopticon. Walled in, the upwards view from the courtyard allows for frames that provide a striking sense of symmetry.
Due to how condensed and tight-knit the individual units are, wide shots tend to show a flattened surrounding that makes for an interesting play in levels.
Enter through Montane Mansion-Oceanic Mansion, 1026–1028 King’s Road, North Point
Previously an area with provisional housing for blue collar factory workers in the Kwun Tong area, this estate sits atop the now levelled-out Dragon Hill, in a valley between Crocodile Hill and Shum Wan Shan. What attracts many camera-towing visitors isn’t exactly the buildings themselves, but the carpark on the roof of the south side estate. Blue walls, each with a circular tunnel in the middle, line up to form a long corridor of layered shapes.
Make your way to the top floor during brighter hours of the day to play around with the composition of shadows that parallel the blue beams bridging out from the tops of each divider.
Car Park, Lok Wah South Estate, 70 Chun Wah Road, Ngau Tau Kok
Like something out of a fairy tale, this secret tunnel is a secluded oasis hidden amongst the modest, earth toned buildings of Cheung Sha Wan. Hanging from the ornate vines are magenta bougainvillea plants, a South American species that thrives in warm climates, blossoming between the months of March to April.
Walk into this ethereal passageway, and instantly feel as if you have been whisked away to a mythical plane, far from the hubbub of the city. A tip to note, the time sensitive nature of this winding pink explosion makes it a rather popular destination, so we recommend visiting earlier during the day to avoid unwitting photobombers.
Un Chau Estate, 303 Castle Peak Road, 303 Un Chau Street, Cheung Sha Wan
Affectionately perceived by residents as the next best alternative to cherry blossoms, pink poui flowers—otherwise known as pink trumpet flowers—are the main attraction at this quaint housing complex in far West of Kowloon. Growing up to 30 metres tall, with hunkering one-metre-long branches, these grand trees dangle down beautiful florets of trumpet shaped petals glowing pink with just a touch of yellow.
Though the tree stands out in the open for all of the public to view, it only blooms for an exclusive period of ten days! This is usually during March to April, in the springtime. If you narrowly miss out, try heading to the playground around Cheung Wah Estate (祥華邨) in Fanling or Nam Cheong Park to try your luck catching sight of the pink trumpets there.
Kwai Fong Estate, 177 Hing Fong Road, Kwai Fong
Cheung Wah Estate, 38 San Wan Road, Fanling
Established by Donald Liao Poon-hai, the “founder of public housings” of Hong Kong, Wah Fu Estate is an integral part of the blueprint for public residentials in the city. Spanning across over six thousand square metres, the total area comprises of 18 tower blocks with a working capacity for around 9,000 apartment units.
This gargantuan estate is a history-laden location, being the first of its kind to incorporate many iconic aesthetics that have become ubiquitous elements in public housing throughout the years. Be it the blocky shape of the building, open courtyard, or mosaic tiled corridors. Built right above the coastline, there are splendid vistas of the sea and sunsets all around. The strip of corridor in front of the outwards facing flats in Wah Yu House host the best view of the open waters, perfect for golden hour shots. Dip down through the car park and in just a few steps, you will reach the close by Waterfall Bay.
Wah Fu Estate, Wah Fu Road, Waterfall Bay, Pok Fu Lam
With a block plan scattered around the S-shaped curve that winds out from a tangent on Lai King Hill Road, these groups of buildings provide a whole load of photographing spots. The punchy structure and contrasting colours allow for pictures that showcase a wide variety of eye-catching shapes and kaleidoscopic perspectives. The curved octagonal alley balconies lend to a futuristic look, forming a perfect frame to shoot with.
Gaze out into the distance from the estate car park and you will notice vistas of Container Port. The spot would make for amazing night time panoramas of dotted lights amongst stacked cargo containers and ships.
Cho Yiu Chuen Estate, 1–5 Lai Cho Road / 2 & 3 Lim Cho Street / 2–6 Wing Cho Street, Kwai Chung
This residential block is a comparatively low key when measured up against the others on this list, but still full of powerful leading lines and interesting constructions to capture.
Showcasing the twin-tower structure found in public housing buildings of the 1970s, an aerial view of the area would show the concrete network in a formation resembling the Chinese character for “well” (井; zeng2), whereby two squares are joined together at the corners. Play around with perspectives by framing your photographs at different floors of the building to spice up the main gridlines and visual hierarchy.
Wo Che Estate, 1–3 Fuk Lo Tsun Road, Sha Tin
A whimsical destination, this estate is like a wonderland full of treasured spots. Each of the housing blocks are named after a species of bird including the Skylark, Herring Gull, Green Herron, Osprey, Sand Martin, Oriole, and Bean Goose—each represented as an adorable cartoonish illustration painted over the side. Multicoloured seated shelters resembling little mushrooms are stippled throughout the open space of the ground floor, accompanied by tall trees and vert bushes. Bring out your inner child by incorporating these cutesy features into your photos.
Sha Kok Estate, Siu Lek Yuen Road, Sha Tin
The very first housing complex to be built in the Sha Tin neighbourhood, over the reclaimed land of Sha Tin Hoi, this accommodation was one of the first to integrate leisure and shopping facilities closer to the residences. The most emblematic of them all, is the magnificent water fountain before the building of Sau Chuen House.
Though the fountain still runs, the water volume and hardness has been lowered out of safety concerns. The swerving borders and cute pastel tones present some quintessentially early-1980s sensibilities, hearkening back to the era that saw the structure roaring with splashes and gleaming with giant sparklers in its full glory.
Lek Yuen Estate, 6 Lek Yuen Street, Sha Tin
Do be reminded that there are many who call these lovely buildings home and may not welcome photographic intrusion, so please remain respectful when photographing in the above neighbourhoods. Avoid going in large groups to prevent disturbances and do not force your way through guarded entries—they are off-limits for a reason. Try to keep the noise down, leave no litter behind, and do not attempt to take pictures of residents without their consent!