Hong Kong’s tong lau buildings are as important architecturally as the hutongs and courtyard houses of Beijing, and the shikumen of Shanghai. Literally meaning “Chinese building”, tong lau are typically three to five storeys high, with balconies overlooking the street. First constructed in the late nineteenth century, they were once an answer to urban overcrowding, with residential apartments on the top floors and shops on street level.
Since the 1960s a huge number of tong lau have been knocked down to make space for taller apartment and commercial buildings. You can hardly walk down a street in Hong Kong today without coming across a building that is in some stage of demolition, and tong lau are suffering most from the wrecking ball.
However, help is now at hand for the endangered tong lau. A growing number of local architects are now looking to the past and to preserving Hong Kong’s architectural heritage, while restaurateurs, shop and hotel owners, and property buyers are all buying up tong lau and transforming them into hip new hangouts and homes.
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