Hong Kong Shophouses
What is a shophouse? They were buildings designed, or at least used, for joint residential and commercial life. The shop/business was downstairs on the ground floor whilst the family resided on the floors above. That in itself doesn’t really explain them in the context of HK because the term is used here almost exclusively to describe a style of building that juts out over the pavement with supporting pillars at the front. I say almost exclusively, but I should make it clear that these particular shophouses are in fact Canton-style or Guangzhou-style shophouses.
When this style of building was more widespread, the names of the shops would be displayed running up and down the pillars. There are other types of shophouses in HK, such as those on Burrows and Mallory Streets in Wanchai, which are more like normal tenements built above shop fronts. These latter are also interesting, and worthy of preservation, but were not as prolific as the column’d ones – although time and the developers whim has ensured this ratio has almost reversed!
Thankfully, they haven’t all been knocked down in HK, but they certainly are a dying breed and now very hard to find – although it is a nice surprise when one suddenly reveals itself. Unlike the Chinese districts in places like Singapore and parts of Malaysia, where this architectural style has been preserved in large quantities, in HK there are now only a few places where they still exist and more often than not are in bad need of repair.
Personally I love them, I think they are wonderful to look at and have an immense practical value which is still relevant in the modern HK. On a very hot and sweaty day (364 days of the year in HK) they provide welcome relief from the harsh sun, soaring temperature and best of all pre-empt the need for high-maintenance neon signage dangling precariously above your head as you walk along the road (I wonder how many people have been killed or injured by falling signage which is now so common in HK streets? So, aesthetics aside, the decline of the shophouse has also led to a more uncomfortable and precarious modern existence.
There has been some success in preservation and renovation. Perhaps the most well-known renovated shophouse building is in Wanchai. It used to be a pawn shop and has been restored into a restaurant called….”The Pawn” (check out a picture of it here). Thankfully someone sees some value in trying to preserve what is left.
I have seen a few examples along Shanghai Street, Canton Road, De Voeux Road (West and central) and Queens Road but to be honest, the partial blocks don’t look half as impressive as when the whole street was made up of them.
I was going to try and document all the remaining shophouse buildings in HK with photos and a little background, but seems as though Gwulo.com has beaten me to it thanks to the impressive efforts of fellow contributor, Thomas. Anyway, it would still be nice to see these places in person so I will keep snapping them as and when. Find some more recent pictures here.
I have also just recently started putting these things onto FLICKR (to save the space on this blog). I have also created a FLICKR group, so please feel free to join and add photos of your own, the URL is: http://www.flickr.com/groups/hkshophouses/
Incidentally, I have also set up a FLICKR group if anyone is interested in contributing. It’s called (wait for it…) HK Shophouses and can be found here.