Kadoorie Estate boasts the lowest-level, high-end homes…
Inevitably, the first thing anyone thinks about Hong Kong is its notoriously skyscraper-heavy skyline. Indeed, a new arrival could be forgiven for assuming that, as far as the city is concerned, verticality is the only game in town.
Look beyond the city’s vertiginous contemporary architecture, however, and you will find a low-level oasis of tranquility, shrouded in greenery and set bang in the middle of one of the world’s most densely-populated districts – Kowloon. This architectural anomaly is the Kadoorie Estate, a quiet, residential garden community located close to bustling Mong Kok.
The origin of the estate dates back to 1931, the year when Hong Kong Engineering and Construction Co – the Kadoorie family business – was successful in its bid to acquire the barren hillside that became the Kadoorie Hill. Reporting the sale, a November 1931 newspaper article breathlessly informed readers: “Within five years, a carefully laid-out model residential area is to replace the barren uneven area of today.”
Although World War II disrupted the original five-year schedule, between 1937 and the early 1960s, some 85 residences were completed across the plot’s extensive acreage. Viewed today, the original concept of a “carefully laid-out model residential area” is still a fair description of the rows of low-rise detached and semi-detached residences that comprise Kadoorie Estate.
While the site’s most recent redevelopers could have razed the low-storey residences in favour of the more typical Hong Kong high-rises, they opted instead to painstakingly restore the original buildings. Even the spacious gardens, wide verandahs and high ceilings have been preserved, a testament to the visionary architects of nigh-on 90 years ago.
Nick Colfer is a director of Sir Elly Kadoorie & Sons, the company charged with the ongoing development of the site. Explaining his approach, he said: “While it’s true that building a new house is a lot cheaper and quicker than restoring an old one, we were genuinely committed to preserving the site as it was envisaged back in the 1930s. The houses here are quite unique compared to anything you’d find pretty much anywhere else in Hong Kong. It would have been a shame to replace them with the standard issue marble-heavy concrete boxes.
“Instead, we opted to create a distinct character for every home on the estate, while retaining as much of each original residence as we could.”
Indeed, touring the estate, one of the residences on its inner Braga Circuit is textbook example of how to marry the classic with the contemporary. Built back in 1961, the original building has undergone a substantial makeover during the last 18 months, ultimately reinvented as a three-storey high, Bauhaus-style home.
While this may sound something of a wholescale refit, it is clear the most recent developers have made every effort to retain the home’s original feel. Indeed, the original timber has been reused wherever practical, while many of the 1961 fixtures – including the staircase railings – have been retained, although occasionally repurposed.
This, though, is no aspic-set museum piece, with all the expected conveniences of modern living unobtrusively integrated into the finished home. From the air-conditioned parking lot and Kohler-fitted bathrooms to the high-tech kitchen and multi-room customisable lighting, discreet luxury and subtle sophistication is very much the order of the day.
Nowhere is this more evident that in the elaborate resort-style water feature that extends across the living space, with the sound of its gentle waves sure to transport residents to some imagined coastal idyll. It’s a conceit that’s only heightened by one of the home’s more inspired conversions – the transformation of one of the bedrooms into a fully-functioning spa, complete with a high, wood-panelled ceiling and a surrounding array of noise-cancelling windows.
Beyond their uniquely discreet fusion of luxury and tradition, the thing that makes these newly-redeveloped Kadoorie Estate homes quite so special is the profound attention to detail that has gone into refitting each one. Whether raising platforms to optimise accessibility, opting for accident-reducing round-edged walls, ensuring all corridors are wheelchair-friendly or fitting anti-slip flooring in all wet rooms, every eventuality seems to have been foreseen and allowed for.
It’s a refreshing change in a property market that has become notoriously short-sighted, with ultimate demolitions seemingly scheduled before any new build is even fully-occupied. Short on storeys, big on vision, long may this particular development inspire future architectural generations.
Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay