Kowloon Walled City
Architect: Various / Date 1945 - 1992 / Location: Hong Kong
Kowloon Walled City was for a while, one of the most densely populated places on earth - during the 80’s it was estimated that around 33,000 people were living in the 200m x 200m block.
The entire thing was demolished in 1992 and replaced with a park, however, since 1945 it had been growing with mostly unregulated building and at such a density that sunlight never reached a lot of the lower levels.
The whole thing started as a military outpost, and when the British decided to have Hong Kong island during the Treaty of Nanking, the Quing authorities decided to build a wall around the outpost in order to minimise any further British influence in the area. Nobody really told that to the British though, and instead they decided to rent everything except the Walled City for 100 years.
For a while it became a bit of a curiosity, for colonialists and tourists untill 1933 when they decided to knock most of it down. The Wall survived untill 1940 when the occupying Japanese forces tore it down to extend the airport next door.
Once the Japanese left there was a bit of an ownership vacuum and the Chinese announced their intention to reclaim the city, with that news some 2000 refugees flooded into the city which the British then tried to remove, until they decided that it was all a bit too hard and they probably had better things to do.
At that point, things got interesting - with neither the British or Chinese governments willing to intervene, the locals described it as ‘unregulated for three’ and it became a haven for drugs dealing, prostitution, unlicensed dentistry and opium dens. Triad groups ruled the city during the 50’s and 60’s, and Police would only venture into the city in large groups. Eventually, after something like 3500 raids during the early 70’s, the police regained control and by the early 80’s the crime rate was apparently under control.
During that time however, the city had grown considerably. Here’s the Fort in 1898, Then here’s the city in 1973 where individual buildings are still identifiable, and the here it is a few years before demolition, seemingly at saturation point.
The network of stairs walkways were apparently so extensive that it was possible to traverse the entire city from north to south without actually touching ground level. Sunlight rarely touched the ground level and as one former resident recalls “At other times right at noon, daylight would leak in, and people would read the paper by the light and kids would play in it. It was rather fascinating.”. Meanwhile, at roof level, the antenna strewn rooftops served as regular meating spot for residence, where children could play and fly kites.
Eventually, both the Chinese and British agreed that the city had to go (it’s also possible that it was their disagreement that had allowed the city to get to the point that it did) and in 1992 it was entirely demolished and replaced with a park.
To give you an idea of what life was like inside, I recommend watching this clip from this brilliant and informative documentary featuring Jean Claude Van Damme.