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Transforming factory buildings into public housing estates is not an unattainable feat in Hong Kong. In fact, there is a unique estate in Chai Wan that has achieved this remarkable transformation. It stands as the sole public housing estate in the city that has been converted from traditional factory buildings – introducing Wah Ha Estate. The rich historical narrative and conservation value that it embodies provide a wealth of stories to share.
The Estate’s Historical Background: H-Shaped Factory Buildings
Formerly known as Chai Wan Factory Buildings, Wah Ha Estate once stood as a 5-story structure built as early as 1959. Among the remaining architectural examples of H-shaped factory buildings in Hong Kong, it stands as a testament to a bygone era. The building boasts open public corridors, communal toilets on each floor, terrazzo stairs, and ramps for transporting goods. Eschewing elevators, the estate employs an open property management approach without gates, a design evoking nostalgia among the older generation.
Chai Wan Factory Buildings were officially recognized as Grade II historic buildings by the Antiquities Advisory Board on February 20, 2013, underscoring its historical significance.
Subsequent to this designation, the buildings underwent a conversion process in 2013. While the exterior remained largely unchanged, structural alterations were undertaken, including creating openings on specific floors to facilitate ventilation and illumination for residential units. The installation of two elevators enhanced residents’ convenience. Additional improvements encompassed the addition of an entrance gate, security counters, a closed property management system, estate service offices, and mutual aid committee offices. Notably, the transformation project incurred a substantial cost of HKD 330 million, translating to an average of HKD 1.76 million per unit – surpassing the expense of constructing new public housing units.
A Singular Building Estate in Chai Wan
Wah Ha Estate offers a distinctive experience owing to its modest size, comprised solely of Wah Hin House. This compact layout facilitates swift exploration in comparison to larger housing estates. Initial impressions of Wah Hin House highlight its architectural continuity, paying homage to its earlier incarnation as an H-shaped factory building. The original name, “Chai Wan Factory Buildings,” still adorns the building’s exterior facing the taxi stand, underscoring its historical connection to the fundamental traits of factory buildings.
To augment comprehension of the history and attributes of the former Chai Wan Factory Buildings, Wah Ha Estate houses an underground exhibition area. At the entrance, historical display panels recount the evolution of factory buildings, complemented by an adjoining cultural relic gallery showcasing artifacts such as movable printing machines, wardrobes, wooden carving boxes, furniture, toys, and signage from erstwhile everyday goods vendors. These relics possess significant historical value and offer a tantalizing glimpse into the past. For those with an inclination to delve deeper into the historical development of factories in Hong Kong, this zone merits exploration.
Moreover, Wah Ha Estate features a contemporary iteration of the traditional public housing folding gates, a design element retained in the ground-floor retail establishments that continue to operate. Even the inscription “Chai Wan Factory Buildings” etched upon the folding gates remains distinctly visible.
Greening Beyond Estate Renewal
In addition to revitalization efforts, the conversion of Wah Ha Estate incorporates various environmentally conscious features. For instance, a garden and recreational area adorn the H-shaped courtyard, serving as both a serene retreat and an ideal backdrop for photography. Introducing green rooftops assists in mitigating the urban heat island effect, while the retention of natural ventilation designs benefits residential units and corridors. Acknowledging these distinct attributes, Wah Ha Estate has been honored with architectural awards, attesting to its recognition within the industry.
However, one limitation during visits pertains to the location of green rooftops and communal spaces within the residential precinct, making it challenging for the general public to gain insight into the inner workings of Wah Ha Estate.
Conservation Comes at a Price
While Wah Ha Estate’s dedication to conservation is laudable, the question of its suitability for habitation arises. According to reports, conservation requirements have imposed various restrictions on residential units. These encompass the prohibition of subdividing rooms, allowing only furniture-based partitions. Furniture is restricted from touching the ceiling, and the use of nails on walls or floors is not permitted. While this preservation-centric approach is pivotal, it does pose certain inconveniences for residents.
Striking a balance between conservation and housing needs presents a formidable challenge.
Basic Info (Wah Ha Estate, 華廈邨)
Location: 2 Kut Shing Street, Chai Wan
Year of Intake: 2016 (After the conservation construction)
No. of Block: 1
Type of Block: H-shaped
Name of Block: Wah Yan House
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