The International Exhibition of the Modern Architecture occurred in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Serrano, 2017). Various elements of works from architects were displayed, and from these, the International Style of Architecture became known or famous. Best to say, it could be argued that modern architecture began at the onset of the 20th Century before the beginning of the industrial revolution and as such, various projects responded to different contexts provided by the earlier architects like Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs (Serrano, 2017). However, the development of the International style soon spread to other countries and as such, began influencing how cities and buildings in the modern humans are being developed or conceived. In Hong Kong, it became difficult implementing such changes on modernism because the buildings had a strong influence by the traditional local spaces and as such, the move to adopt new functions was difficult (Serrano, 2017). Despite the rigidity of the culture towards accepting the modern architecture, Hong Kong has equally transitioned into modernity in the building and housing sectors. As of currently, exhibitions are being held to portray the drawings, photographs as well as models from the iconic modernist buildings which are representing the Hong Kong Modern Architecture. Hence, Hong Kong, by all means, has transformed, if not so, adapted to the modernist architecture. Apparently, Hong Kong is the focus of modern architecture since older buildings have been cleared to make room for the development of newer and larger buildings. The city has a myriad of skyscrapers towering 150 meters. In fact, apparently, the city’s skyline is being argued as the best worldwide.
Modernism became an essential style or philosophy in designing buildings and “defined the architectural development during the 20th Century” (Steiner 214, p.762). Some of the elements that defined the structures or development included the emphasis on “functionality of the buildings, rational use of materials, embracing of structural innovation as well as the elimination of the ornaments” (Mattens 2011, p.107). The architectural development in the modernist era in Hong Kong also incorporated the elements of the modernist period. For instance, the first buildings in the city, classified as high rise were constructed between 1904 and 1905, reflecting the modernist tall story buildings, between 5 and 6 stories (Xue et al., 2013). Accordingly, the development of the architecture in Hong Kong would also reflect the emphasis on the functionality of the buildings, for instance, the buildings in the 1930s focusing more on serving business purposes. One of such building to be developed was the Hong Kong Bank as the first skyscraper in 1935, the first ever to have fitted elements or features like air conditioning, but later developments like HSBC Main Building replaced the building, which shows the futurism concept incorporated in the building of the modernist architecture in Hong Kong (Xue et al., 2013). Accordingly, the development of architecture in Hong Kong embodied the Bauhaus and Morderne elements, as evident from buildings like the Wan Chai Market and Central Market, although the faced demolitions despite protests from the conservationist groups.
HBSC Building (Emporis, 2017)
HBSC building 1933
HBSC building after 1986
Wan Chan Market (Alamy, 2017)
Wan Chai Market 1950s
Old Wan Chai Market 2000s
Central Market (Development Bureau, 2017)
Central Hong Kong Market 1931
Central Market 2000s
In all the buildings highlighted above, elements of modernism in architecture are notable or evident. For instance, all of them have “asymmetrical compositions where there is the extensive use or application of cylindrical and cubic shapes” (Rodriguez 9). Besides, the buildings are developed by incorporating “glass and metal frameworks interlaced with large windows” (Wagner 32). However, unlike the historical or old buildings in Hong Kong, the modernism architecture conspicuously lacks mouldings and ornaments. Moreover, the broader use or application of white cream is included in their development, especially the successive renovations and modifications that occurred on the buildings.
The Multi-story building also developed in modernist Hong Kong from 1955 when an ordinance was introduced that scrapped the height limit imposed on the residential buildings, a necessary change to accommodate the refugees coming from the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 (Xue et al., 2013). The compartment and brick-laced buildings as a feature of the modernist architecture were equally introduced in the 1960s, an example being the Tong Lau apartments.
Tong Lau 1930s
Tong Lau 2015
Towards the late modernist era, the 1990s saw a shift in the architectural development especially in design as the demand for high-end buildings increased, especially the Central Hong Kong area. Some of the notable changes include the skylines, and with the scrapping of height restrictions, Hong Kong has adopted the high-end and towering skyscrapers, an example being the International Commerce Centre which is currently the tallest building in the city.
Therefore, best to say, Hong Kong’s modernism architectural development transformed from the simple to complex housing and building designs by the end of the 1990s. Notable features of the modernist architecture including use of white cream, cylindrical or cubical shapes, minimal use of ornaments as well as the emphasis of on the functionality of the buildings have defined the architectural development of Hong Kong since the onset of the 20th century that marked the beginning of the modernist architecture.
- Alamy, 2017. China Hong Kong Wan Chai Tai Yuen street open-air Market.
- Development Bureau, 2017. Central Market.
- Emporis, 2017 HSBC Main Building.
- Mattens, F. 2011. The aesthetics of space: Modern architecture and photography. Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, 69(1), 105-114.
- Rodríguez, E.L., 2000. The Havana guide: Modern Architecture 1925-1965. Princeton Architectural Press.
- Serrano, V. 2017. Hong King Modernism.
- Steiner, F., 2014. Sanctioning modernism: Architecture and the making of post-war identities. University of Texas Press.
- Wagner, O., 1988. Modern architecture: a guidebook for his students to this field of art. Getty Publications.
- Xue, C, Hui, K. and Zang, P. 2013. Public buildings in Hong Kong: A short account of evolution since the 1960s. Habitat International, 38, pp. 57-69.