11.16.2007

Kowloon Walled City



Kowloon Walled City
Once upon a time, there was a large building block in Hong Kong. It didn´t follow "normal" urban laws, or architectural codes. It was like a surreal organism of building parts, growing in ways that were uncontrollable. It wasn´t a group of buildings, but the entire block was one huge buildings of 14 storeys high, with small inner streets. It was dark, smelly and damp. And dangerous, uncontrollable by official forces.

How could such a place have ever come into existance? Well, at first it was a simple fortress. When the british wanted to expand their hold on Hong Kong in 1898, with a 99-year lease covering the whole of Kowloon Peninsula and all the nearby islands, most of Kowloon City was subsumed under the new jurisdiction. However, part of the terms of the lease was that a small magistrates` fort would remain Chinese territory until the colonial administration was properly established.

This never properly happened: and the fort was a anomaly: within the british zone, but not under british jurisdiction. The chinese left in 1899, but the british never got a firm grip on the area - it became like a diplomatic black hole - no party wanted to upset the other, making way for an anarchistic society. All possible vices were present, and the place was more or less run by local triads. The area increased an increased, since no law was governing it.

Lateron, after extensive police raids in the seventies, the triads lost its stronghold on the place, making way for a self-organised community. The place started to grow. But the outer limits were set, so the place had to grow inwards. A labyrinthine network of buildings, with streets on different levels started to form, grow and change. It was like a monolythic sculpture, cut out by human activities. The only rules of construction were twofold: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than about fourteen stories high, because of the nearby airport.

If there ever was a place with extreme density, it was Kowloon Walled City: considering that 35.000 people lived on 6.5 acres (about 200 x 100 metres), every person had about 5 metres (if I did my maths correctly). No car could fit in the narrow streets, and every visitor would´ve been lost upon entering. The only sunlight inside came from small cracks between the building. No one would´ve ever imagined such a place, but still it existed. It was finally destroyed in 1993, making way for a park



Watermark publications released a great book about Kowloon Walled City in the late nineties:
Girard, Greg and Lambot, Ian. City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City. London: Watermark, 1999.

1 comment:

kevic said...

Hey, you stopped posting.