The Parker Estate 百嘉新邨

The picture postcard archetype of dense urban living.
The picture postcard archetype of dense urban living.

The Parker Estate – an anglicisation of its original Chinese name: 百嘉新邨1 – lies on the border between the densely built up, vertical cityscape, and the sparser, less developer friendly mountain terrain that skirts Hong Kong Island’s 香港島 Quarry Bay District 鰂魚涌 – gaze down from above like some omniscient God in satellite view, and you don’t even need the contour lines to tell when the elevation begins – just look to where they stopped building.

The estate was originally planned in 1962, to occupy the site of the former company town that constituted part of the diminishing Taikoo Sugar Refinery, but the project ended up languishing in development hell for 10 years as negotiations were batted back and forth between the developer and HK government over the sale of the land. The building was finally completed in 1972, and is basically a textbook case of what you get when a developer pushes every single planning regulation to the absolute limits of acceptability, with little (if any) consideration given to the property’s aesthetic value.

For a start, no registered architect was ever employed to design it, instead, it’s plan was mapped out by a structural engineer – the idea presumably being to ensure that the building was as up to code as possible, and every point of the brief actioned with reliable technical precision, if not finesse. It’s actually a somewhat understandable approach given the situation at the time – with tragic events such as the Shek Kip Mei fire still fresh in the government’s collective mind, and the region’s rapid population influx; the focus was very much on housing as many people as possible, in as short a time as possible (obviously it didn’t always work well in practice, given the Parker project’s lengthy delays), and the planning rules and regulations in place at the time reflected this attitude, which heavily influenced the development of the dense mega-residentials the country is famous for today.

Pretty much every design choice made in the Parker Estate’s construction, can be attributed to some regulation or other that had to be taken into account to gain government approval: It’s odd shape, which forms the letter ‘E’, or possibly more appropriately, the Chinese character 山 (mountain); is a consequence of mandated lighting/ventilation requirements; the 18 storey tall facade, was the absolute maximum height codes allowed for at time of planning; and even the building’s mixed use layout – commercial units on the lower floors, with residential space above; was stringently codified by zoning legislation.

The open space from which I took this photo was mandated as part of planning regulations and faces due South towards Mt Parker, ensuring near perpetual shade and adequate ventilation.
The open space from which I took this photo was mandated as part of planning regulations and faces due South towards Mt Parker, ensuring near perpetual shade and adequate ventilation.

For reasons unknown (although very likely related to a property downturn in Hong Kong towards of end of the 1960s) the original developer of the Parker Estate was no longer involved with the project by the time of its eventual completion, and instead the building was split into 5 irregularly sized, conjoined apartment blocks, each administered separately by a different developer:

  1. Oceanic Mansion 海景樓
  2. Montane Mansion 海山樓
  3. Fok Cheong Building 福昌樓
  4. Yik Cheong Building 益昌樓
  5. Yik Fat Building 益發樓

In total, 2443 apartment units were squeezed into this looming concrete mass, which is often referred to locally as the ‘Monster Building 怪獸大廈’ for obvious reasons2; and these were marketed heavily towards working class locals as more affordable housing – even today you can snag an apartment in the Parker Estate for around HK$4,000,000 (approx $511,000 USD), which is obviously nuts, but eminently reasonable in comparison to the alternatives in such a central locale.

The place has become something of a photography hotspot now – particularly after it was featured in Transformers 4 and the 2017 Ghost in the Shell remake, but there’s actually a darker more grisly piece of movie inspired history that links to the complex – the Fok Cheung Building in particular was, in 1973, the scene of a murder committed by Huang Zhiheng 黃志恆, before he fled to Macau 澳門 and exacted the infamous Eight Immortals Restaurant Murders, which subsequently inspired ‘The Untold Story 八仙飯店之人肉叉燒包’ – a grisly, action packed piece of Hong Kong cinema that certainly had fun with the rumoured cannibalism aspect of the killings – possibly not the most historically accurate account though!

The Parker Estate’s jumbled and seemingly disordered exterior, which has seen decades of pollution, weathering, and tenant modification, is about as close as you can get these days to the makeshift, mad, dense crush of architecture that comprised the long demolished Walled City in Kowloon, which obviously dwarfed it in both scale and chaos, but the lack of symmetry, and the slapdash function-over-form of the architecture, definitely bear some resemblance in my eyes. Of course, now that I’ve thoroughly researched the estate, I wish I’d delved more thoroughly into it when I was there, and so this report is a little short on illustrative photos, just the typical artsy ones I was into at the time – a return journey is definitely warranted, and of course, I’ll update this page when I have more to show.

Much of the information here, I sourced from Ho-Yin Lau’s 劉浩然 excellent and thoroughly detailed thesis on the Parker Estate. If you’re interested in knowing more, it’s available here and contains pretty much everything you’d want to know.

  1. The Chinese name itself possibly being either a reference to a township on the mainland, or a sinification based on nearby Mt. Parker – in which case it’s gone full linguistic circle!
  2. Curiously – it’s actually listed somewhat erroneously on Wikipedia, as just “Yik Cheong Building” referring to the structure in it’s entirety, whereas in actual fact, Yik Cheong only comprises the central block, ie. the mid-stroke of the ‘E’ shape it resembles.