Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Canton-style Shophouses, Territory-wide

Any long-term reader of my blog (or at least the last version of it will probably already be aware that one of my great obsessions since moving here has been the various Canton-style shophouses that, though once prolific, are a bit of a dying breed. It's a big shame because many of these buildings have enormous character - especially when you compare them to the generic office blocks that spring up in their place. Canton-style may or not be an official term to describe the shophouses that have front supporting columns/pillars that extend the first floor of the building over the pavement, offering a slightly more restricted passage underneath but at the same time affording some respite from HK's often harsh climate. The pillars were also used to display the shop/business name before the advent of neon signage.
It became a bit of a mission to try and document as many as possible before they all disappeared under the developers' wrecking ball, and a fairly good job was done documenting all types by everyone over at But it's the columned ones that I find the most intriguing and as such tended to bung up a new post whenever I found one I hadn't seen before. The blog ended up with about 30 separate posts on these buildings.

Anyway, rather than rehash them one by one here, I've instead picked a selection of pictures (probably a quarter of all the buildings I have snapped) taken over the past 6-or-so years. Some buildings have probably gone by now, some have definitely been renovated and some are still as they were.

This building above has been ear-marked for demolition, this is a crying shame for several reasons including the fact that it is in excellent condition and has been well looked after, but also because it is only one of four remaining curved corner shophouses (that I am aware of) left standing in HK. :-(


These buildings (block of three) below are on Queen's Road East in Wanchai and are pretty much all that is left of the former Wedding Card Street that was unceremoniously bulldozed by the completely idiotic Urban Renewal Authority. I believe they were saved from demolition but have yet to return this way to see how they have been renovated.

The next picture below shows a couple of rapidly deteriorating shophouses along Des Voeux Road in Sheung Wan (situated about midway between the two entry points of Ko Shing Street. This picture was actually taken back in 2008 and sadly the building on the right has already been demolished, but the one with the red pillar still remains for the time being (not long, I bet!!). I'll load up a comparison shot when I get one sorted.


Wanchai, Lockhart Road

A couple of examples of successful renovations (in my opinion of course). The first one is The Pawn in Wanchai - converted from some old shops and a pawnshop (hence the name) into a rather spiffy and expensive restaurant. It's been a bit controversial because even though the building is very attractive, the new use of the site has drawn criticism for being a little less than inclusive. Apparently there is public space on the roof though that the riffraff (like myself) can use without the eatery having much power to do anything about.

The Pawn

Lui Seng Chun

The controversy of The Pawn however seems to have been avoided at the above renovation of Lui Seng Chun in Sham Shui Po. This is one of the four remaining curved corner buildings I was talking about earlier. It has been taken over by one of the local tertiary institutions as a Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic and shop.

The following is a great example of how not to do heritage preservation. It can be found in Li Chit Street and was put up in place of some of the older buildings that were once on either side of the street here. They were quite unique with curved balconies and seem to have been quite popular with filmmakers.

Li Chit Street

They look quite nice, don't they? They do, until you understand that this isn't a building at all but a simple wall (yes, that's right, a wall) that has been decorated in the style of the buildings that used to stand here. Fake windows, fake building, fake heritage. It fools a lot of people, and I guess that was the intention but I just find it a bit sad and a great example of what the HK Govt thinks will suffice for preserving old buildings.

Moving on to Mongkok and the row of shophouses that front the Flower Market. Despite the redevelopment of a couple of buildings in the centre, this row of buildings is actually the second largest contiguous block of shophouses in the whole territory (8 or so in one row). This is rare and most buildings exist purely in little clumps of one or two.

The longest block of intact shophouses can be found a little further south into Mongkok along Shanghai Street. Here there are ten (I think?) in a single row and they were going to be renovated by the Govt. I'm not sure if this has been done yet, so if anyone can provide up-to-date info, please feel free to comment. When you consider that many of the streets in Kowloon were absolutely lined with these buildings as recently as the 1980's, it's a big shame that so many have been lost in such a short time.

The blue building in the picture below has its date of construction shown at the top, and it is quite obvious from this (and many more of these buildings) that the builders made up for a lack of height with attention to detail. It seems that in HK, the taller your building is the less impressive it is to see at close range - I guess with many of the skyscrapers in Hong Kong all the effort has been put into making them look impressive from a distance.
 King's Road, North Point

These buildings exist in various states from completely dilapidated with trees growing through the roof, to absolutely immaculate and well-maintained. Some have seen one of their pillars removed due to development being done in close proximity below is a picture of perhaps what happens when developers can't be bothered to do a proper demolition job (perhaps the pillar straddles land lots?). All that is left on this one is the pillar and the portion of the front wall that sits above it!

And finally, here is another one of the curved corner buildings that are still standing for the time being. This one is in Cheung Sha Wan.

Anyway, for anyone who is interested, my obsession with these buildings did actually make it into print a few years ago courtesy of Chris DeWolf and an article he wrote for the China Daily. Both he and myself are also members of a small group on FLICKR that has many more examples from all over the territory. Feel free to check it out, join and contribute:


  1. I mourn the loss of 187 Apliu Street. It may be the last urban building with "tong lung", the type of traditional Chinese wooden gate.

    I cannot agree more with the comment by tngan.

    On another note, two village buildings (30 and 31 Sun Chun Street, Tai Hang) are still standing in urban Hong Kong.

    1. Well, 187 Apilu street wasn't demolished, but was terribly renovated in my opinion. I hope they restore it to its original condition. I actually live a minutes walk away from 30 and 31 Sun Chun street Tai Hang, its a bistro of some sort, great condition though. There are a few more old buildings in the area.