When one thinks of Tai Hing Estate(「大興邨」) in Tuen Mun, the first thing that likely comes to mind is its distinctive cruciform building design. This unique architectural style, with narrower upper floors and wider lower floors, imparts a distinctive character to the buildings, soaring elegantly into the sky with a touch of futuristic aesthetics. Even today, it remains timeless, and similar designs are a rarity among Hong Kong’s private residential estates.
However, I’ve always pondered, “Why did Tai Hing Estate opt for the cruciform building design during its inception?”
To unravel this mystery, I decided to delve into a collection of old reports and journals.
Some of the earliest Chinese reports on Tai Hing Estate date back to 1976 in “The Industrial and Commercial Daily” (《工商日報》)and “The Overseas Chinese Daily.”(《華僑日報》) These reports announced that Tai Hing Estate would be completed and ready for occupancy by the end of the following year, 1977. Two other reports introduced the cruciform building design of Tai Hing Estate and elaborated that this design “offers a variety of residential unit sizes, with larger units on the lower floors and smaller ones on the upper floors. The shorter corridors on each floor promote closer relationships among residents.” Clearly, these reports had already elucidated the reasons behind selecting the cruciform design for this housing estate.
In response to the rapid population growth in Hong Kong during the 1970s, urban living conditions had become exceedingly cramped. As a result, new towns were established to address this issue, with Tuen Mun being one of them. The traditional long rectangular buildings (Old Slab) commonly used at the time could no longer meet the demands of the growing population. Consequently, finding ways to accommodate more residents within a single building became a paramount consideration for the government at the time.
The cruciform building design emerged as one of the experimental solutions within this context.
Tai Hing Estate in Tuen Mun enjoyed the advantage of a spacious land area compared to urban locales, and Tuen Mun New Town was still in its nascent stages of development. Therefore, Tai Hing Estate proved to be an ideal testing ground for this experimental concept.
For a more in-depth understanding of the cruciform building design, one can refer to the 1977 issue of the architectural engineering journal “Asian Building & Construction.” This publication provided a professional and technically rigorous explanation of various aspects of the cruciform building design, encompassing its foundation, structure, construction methodologies, and the materials employed. It unveiled the enigmatic facets of cruciform public housing and shed light on the untold stories behind it.
The journal explicitly noted that Tai Hing Estate was the first public housing estate in Hong Kong to adopt the cruciform block design. Given the unique characteristics of these buildings, the government also employed a pioneering construction method known as the Omnia Slab Method. This method entailed the use of precast concrete panels for internal partitions and exterior walls, resulting in savings in construction time and labor costs.
So, what were the distinguishing features and advantages of the cruciform building design? Firstly, it required less foundational space, resulting in lower construction costs compared to traditional structures. Additionally, Tai Hing Estate’s project architect, Thomas Ku, expounded in the journal, “The cruciform building’s structure and foundation are inherently more stable than their traditional rectangular counterparts, making them more resilient against powerful typhoons.” However, the most significant aspect was that the cruciform structure was ideally suited to the rapid population growth in Hong Kong during that era. Ku further elaborated, “The enhanced stability of the building’s foundation allows for the addition of more floors, translating to an increased capacity for residents. This not only provides them with a superior living environment but also fosters a sense of identity and belonging to the community.”
In fact, owing to the narrower upper floors and wider lower floors of the cruciform design, each floor accommodated more units, significantly augmenting the number of residents that could be housed. Furthermore, the estate offered five different unit sizes tailored for families ranging from 5 to 9 members, with areas ranging from 237 square feet to 508 square feet, adapting to the evolving social structure of Hong Kong families during that period.
To further enhance the buildings’ stability, reinforced concrete was utilized for the exterior walls. This enabled the 30-story high-rise buildings to better withstand pressure and tension while providing enhanced resistance to earthquakes and waterproofing. This feature instilled a sense of security among the residents of Hong Kong, who often confronted the brunt of typhoon forces.
Although the cruciform building design had its drawbacks and limitations, it served as a point of reference and a demonstration for future public housing building designs. It paved the way for other iconic public housing buildings, such as the Trident blocks and Harmony blocks, underscoring the pivotal role of cruciform public housing design.
Note: If you have an interest in exploring more about other types of public housing building designs, please feel free to share your thoughts and let me know!
Quick Facts about Tai Hing Estate:
- Housing Type: Public Rental Housing
- Location: 2-6 Tai Hing Street, 1, 2-6 Tai Fong Street, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong
- Year of Intake: 1977
- Number of Buildings: 7
- Building Types: Cruciform Block, Old Slab
- Building Names: Hing Cheung House, Hing Fai House, Hing Ping House, Hing Shing House, Hing Tai House, Hing Wai House, Hing Yiu House
- Developed and Constructed by: Hong Kong Housing Authority
- Principal Contractor: Far East Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd
Source: Wikipedia, Hong Kong Housing Authority, “Asian Building & Construction”
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