Yue Kwong Chuen｜Standing for 59 years, first public housing in Aberdeen to be torn down in 2 years; rare natural lighting and hallway designs; without an elevator, 11 floors by foot all the way
蘋果日報 2021/06/21 20:30
Situated not far from Aberdeen’s center is Aberdeen’s Yue Kwong Chuen, with close to 60 years of history. Its demolition is expected in 2023, and the village will be rebuilt. This public estate built on the hillside is composed of five houses: Pak Sha Lau, Shun Fung Lau, Hoy Kong Lau, Ching Hoy Lau, and Hoy Au Lau, all of which were named after beautiful things in the world of fishermen. A bird’s eye view of the estate resembles the structure of a small boat. In the 1960s, Aberdeen was a vibrant fishing port, hence the name of the estate, Yue Kwong Chuen (which means “fishing lights village”). It was built as a low-cost housing option for people-on-water and residents of Aberdeen.
Yue Kwong Chuen, Aberdeen
A bird’s eye view of Yue Kwong Chuen resembles the structure of a small boat.
Chan Chi-wah, an author and scholar of the history of Hong Kong’s housing estate, pointed out that the appearance of motorboats in the 1960s brought about the decline in competitiveness of fishing boats that use sculls. At the same time, fishermen began to consider the future of their children, and wanted the younger generations to study, work, or start businesses. This prompted them to migrate to land. Typically living in low-quality shacks or squatter huts on the shore, the people-on-water who migrated to these land-based transitional housing had no access to toilets or kitchens. “You could imagine the difference a concrete building with a roof above makes compared to their original living environment.”
In 1978, Suen Chun-wai (Ah Tim) moved into Yue Kwong Chuen with his family, and moved out after 23 years. At the moment, only his 69-year-old mother (Mrs. Suen) still resides in the community. It has been 40 years for her. “Many of my classmates would ask me why I was moving to such a remote area, because there was nothing in Aberdeen.” Ah Tim moved in when he was only four. He recalled the days when Yue Kwong Road Market did not exist, and Yue Kwong Road and Aberdeen Reservoir Road would be bustling with stalls selling fruits and vegetables. People would get their breakfasts at dai pai dongs (open-air food stalls) and get their daily groceries. Transportation to climb the hills was not available, so people preferred these stalls to hiking all the way to Aberdeen’s city center for daily necessities. Later, when Yue Kwong Road Market was built, the stalls moved in and the energy on the streets was no more.
Suen Chun-wai (Ah Tim) and his 69-year-old mother (Mrs. Suen)
Right by the entrance of Shun Fung Lau near Shek Pai Wan Estate, there used to be a store selling liquified petroleum gas and paraffin to supply to the people in town before there was gas. According to the annual report in the 1960s by the Hong Kong Housing Society, the village had a gas station, three shops, one housing estate office, a kindergarten, and a “party room”. Chan Chi-wah believed the “party room” to be a free social venue for the neighbors to reserve, which was evidence that the Housing Society’s housing estate design had taken into consideration entertainment for the residents and the establishment of a sense of community. The shops, tuck shops, and grocers of that era have now become a community center, and the Yue Kwong Kindergarten in the community has been torn down, with only the empty lot of the former school’s playground fenced off by barbed wire right by Ching Hoy Lau. Ah Tim was a student at Yue Kwong Kindergarten. He remembered being with 20 classmates in a tiny classroom, with no door between his and classes for older students.
Speaking of the memories of Yue Kwong Chuen, Ah Tim is sure that all the neighbors would remember an uncle who sold White Sugar Sponge Cake (Bak Tong Go). “Every day between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., he would start from Hoy Au Lau located at the highest point, going from floor to floor, building to building, pulling along his cart while yelling ‘White sugar sponge cake! Sago cake!’ in his distinctive loud voice.” Mrs. Suen reminisced on how it was happier times in the past: “Before, once you departed from your front door and walked through the corridor, all the neighbors would greet each other and chat. Nowadays, everyone goes home and closes the door.” The building has a central corridor layout, with kitchens right by the corridor. Housewives would leave their windows open when they are cooking, and the corridor would be brimming with the smell of food. Neighbors would greet each other as they pass by, and kids would play in the corridor. A small window allowed busy housewives to have relationships with the neighbors while keeping an eye on the children. Every building in Yue Kwong Chuen adopts the same design of a central corridor. Except for Hoy Kong Lau, every unit is connected by a little bridge which creates a private hallway, where residents could place shoes, mops, and other daily necessities without obstructing the movement of the people. This design is similar to that of Ming Wah Dai Ha. Chan Chi-wah highlighted the importance of this design for ventilation: “Air-conditioning was very expensive and uncommon at that time. This sort of design for ventilation was necessary.”
Before Yue Kwong Road Market was built, Yue Kwong Road and Aberdeen Reservoir Road were bustling with stalls selling fruits and vegetables. Online image
The Hong Kong Housing Society was established in 1948. In the post-war aftermath, the Lord Mayor of London donated a sum of 14,000 pounds for its Air Raid Distress Fund to Hong Kong, and the Housing Society was thus formed to undertake public housing affairs. In 1951, it built Sheung Li Uk in Sham Shui Po, which was Hong Kong’s first public housing estate. Yue Kwong Chuen begun construction in 1962 and the project was conducted in two phases. The first included Bak Sha Lau, Shun Fung Lau, and Hoy Kong Lau; the second was Shun Hoy Lau and Hoy Au Lau.
The Housing Society intentionally designed the more humble Hoy Kong Lau to cater to families with lower financial means. The neighbors needed to share the communal kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. At that time, the Housing Society only designed communal kitchens and bathrooms in four of its housing estates. Other than Hoy Kong Lau, there were also Kai Ming House and Tak Ming House in Kai Tak Estate, as well as Block A of Ming Wah Dai Ha. At the time of the first move-ins, Hoy Kong Lau’s monthly rent was between HK$45 and $70 (US$5.8 and $9), a little cheaper compared to the other buildings which were between HK$67 and $119 (US$8.6 and $15). Hoy Kong Lau was rebuilt in 1982 to include a private kitchen and bathroom for every unit.
Except for Hoy Kong Lau, every building in Yue Kwong Chuen has a central corridor with light wells on either side. Perforated walls of the staircase provide the building with plenty of natural light.
In 2010, the Housing Society began renovating Ching Hoy Lau and Hoy Au Lau from phase two of the estate project. The exterior was updated, floor tiles were laid, elevators and lobby gates were installed. As of now, the other three buildings still do not have an elevator. Ah Tim’s family was living in Shun Fung Lau which did not have an elevator. They later applied to move to the renovated Hoy Au Lau in a bigger unit at a higher location.
In 2018, the Housing Society launched the “T-Home” scheme and allocated 200 units in Yue Kwong Chuen to be transitional housing options for the people who are applying for public housing and have the need to improve the temporary living environment. Today, Yue Kwong Chuen is expected to be demolished by 2023 to be rebuilt, and the affected residents will be relocated to Shek Pai Wan Road. Ah Tim pointed out that the news of rebuilding has been around for years. Although it is believed that Yue Kwong Chuen’s facilities and environment will be much better after the reconstruction, there is also the worry that the new building would be more expensive. “Although I’ve moved out for a while already, I do think it is a pity to demolish it. There are a lot of elderly in the community, and no doubt they have feelings for the place after being there for so long. Would they be able to get used to a new environment?” For Chan Chi-wah, Yue Kwong Chuen represents the architecture of Hong Kong in the 1960s. Keeping it would allow future generations to know that Hong Kong used to have these buildings. “I understand that Hong Kong’s housing problem is a serious issue, so perhaps they could consider preserving or modifying the use of one of the buildings. Once you demolish it, it’s gone forever.”
Although Yue Kwong Chuen is full of characteristics, we call on the readers not to rush to “check-in” at Yue Kwong Chuen and disrupt the lives of the residents.
In the housing estates by HKHS in the 1960s, neighbors have to share communal kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. HKHS annual report.
Yue Kwong Chuen in the 1970s. Online image.
The slide in the above photo no longer exists.
For Chan Chi-wah, Yue Kwong Chuen represents the architecture of Hong Kong in the 1960s.