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Lai Tak Tsuen: Discovering Hong Kong’s Public Housing with Unique Bicylindrical Design and Rich Cultural History

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When it comes to public housing estates well-known among Hong Kongers, names like Wah Fu Estate, Choi Hung Estate, and Nam Shan Estate often come to mind, celebrated for their photogenic appeal. Yet, nestled in Tai Hang, Lai Tak Tsuen distinguishes itself with its unparalleled bicylindrical block design. This feature not only makes it a popular spot for photo enthusiasts in Hong Kong but also attracts a significant number of international tourists each year. Lai Tak Tsuen boasts numerous Instagrammable spots, both inside and out, creating an unforgettable visual experience. However, being the sole rental estate in the Wan Chai District, the history behind Lai Tak Tsuen is equally fascinating, sparking discussions ever since its inception. Before I share my personal journey through Lai Tak Tsuen, let me first delve into some of the estate’s intriguing backstories.


Named in Honor of a Former Director of Public Works and Housing Society Committee Member

Before we explore the estate further, it’s worth sharing a few interesting facts about Lai Tak Tsuen. Have you ever pondered the origin of its name? It was named in honor of a former Housing Society committee member and Director of Public Works. Initially, I thought the name Lai Tak Tsuen was simply a metaphorical expression of the Housing Society’s aspirations for the community, but it turns out there’s more to the story. “Lai Tak” is actually derived from Michael Wright’s name! Wright was not only a Director of Public Works, overseeing land, urban planning, and public works, but also an architect and a committee member of the Housing Society. He introduced the “Wright Principle,” advocating for each housing unit to have its own kitchen and bathroom, moving away from the traditional design of shared facilities. This principle was so revolutionary that even Sheung Li Uk, built in 1952, featured independent bathrooms and kitchens, marking a significant advancement over the shared amenities common at the time. Wright’s dedication to improving the living standards for the community is evident.

勵德邨對出的Chocolate Rain璧畫。
Lai Tak Tsuen.
勵德邨對出的Chocolate Rain璧畫。
Lai Tak Tsuen, Tai Hang.

In recognition of Wright’s contributions, the Housing Society named the estate Lai Tak Tsuen. This detail and more about the naming tradition can be found on the Housing Society’s official website. Interestingly, the naming of many Housing Society rental estates honors the memory of committee members. For instance, Ming Wah Dai Ha in Shau Kei Wan is named after Bishop Ronald Owen Hall, a founding member of the Housing Society. Homantin Kai Wai Chuen and Sha Tin Jat Ming Chuen are named in memory of the late founders Cheung Kai Wai and Mr. Chen Jat Ming, respectively. At the inauguration of Lai Tak Tsuen, Michael Wright and his wife were present, underscoring the personal connection and legacy embedded within the estate’s foundation.

Scenes from Lai Tak Tsuen in Tai Hang.
A distant view of Lai Tak Tsuen in Tai Hang.

From its inception, Lai Tak Tsuen has been a subject of considerable interest.

Indeed, Lai Tak Tsuen had already garnered attention before its construction had officially begun. The earliest report I could find, dating back to 1970 in The Kung Sheung Evening News, highlighted the anticipation surrounding the yet-to-be-constructed Lai Tak Tsuen by “tens of thousands of residents.” This report also mentioned that, being a low-rent estate aimed at applicants with higher incomes, the Housing Society had announced plans to increase the income requirements for applicants. Notably, the rent for Lai Tak Tsuen was set at the highest rate among many low-rent estates at the time. According to a 1972 article by the Overseas Chinese Daily News, the monthly rent for a unit accommodating five people was $166, and for eight people, it was $238.

Lai Tak Tsuen in Tai Hang.

High Early Demand with Nearly 60,000 Applications and Less Than a 3% Acceptance Rate

Despite the high rent, the demand for Lai Tak Tsuen was overwhelming, with its prime location in Tai Hang, proximity to luxury residences, views of Victoria Harbour, and the unique design of its cylindrical buildings, which even featured bathtubs in their bathrooms. Such luxuries are considered extravagant even by today’s public housing standards. Consequently, despite the estate’s relatively inconvenient transport links, it drew significant interest. The initial phase offered only 1,600 units, yet, as reported by various newspapers, nearly 60,000 applications were received. This translated to an acceptance rate of less than 3%, necessitating two rounds of draws—a testament to the exceptional allure of Lai Tak Tsuen for many Hong Kongers and the remarkable fortune of those selected from such a large pool of applicants.

A closer look at the cylindrical buildings of Lai Tak Tsuen reveals the spacious design of the arcades in each unit.

s Living in Lai Tak Tsuen as Good as It Seems?

Many are understandably curious about the living experience within the cylindrical units of Lai Tak Tsuen. I, too, was eager to find out, and a glimpse into this was provided by a 1976 news report. The Overseas Chinese Daily News reported that due to landslides and the terrain, the estate’s move-in date was postponed from 1973-1974 to 1975-1976. Journalists interviewed residents, and one report, titled “Lai Tak Tsuen’s Design: Luxurious but Impractical – Twin Towers’ Exterior Appeals, Yet Furniture Arrangement Presents Challenges,” highlighted that while the overall living environment was satisfactory to most, some residents struggled with room division and furniture placement to achieve a conventional layout. Additionally, the circular design of the twin towers resulted in smaller living and bedroom areas, proving inadequate for families of seven to eight people.

今年正值房協75周年,勵德邨內都有Chocolate Rain為主題的屋邨藝術裝置慶祝。
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Housing Society, and Lai Tak Tsuen is celebrating with estate art installations themed around Chocolate Rain.
今年正值房協75周年,勵德邨內都有Chocolate Rain為主題的屋邨藝術裝置慶祝。
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Housing Society, and Lai Tak Tsuen is celebrating with estate art installations themed around Chocolate Rain.
今年正值房協75周年,勵德邨內都有Chocolate Rain為主題的屋邨藝術裝置慶祝。
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Housing Society, and Lai Tak Tsuen is celebrating with estate art installations themed around Chocolate Rain.

Exploring Lai Tak Tsuen: Compact Yet Charming

Before delving into my experience, I must apologize. Although aware of the many photogenic spots within the estate’s cylindrical buildings, access was restricted without a local guide, and photography was prohibited to non-residents to minimize disturbance.

The ground floor of the cylindrical blocks in Lai Tak Tsuen houses hardware stores and clinics.
Lai Kit House.

Lai Tak Tsuen may not cover a vast area, comprising only three buildings and a handful of shops, without a shopping mall or market, making it possible to quickly walk through the estate. However, it houses essential amenities like supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants, offering a limited but sufficient variety of options. The estate also features clinics, hardware stores, bus and minibus terminals, and several community centers. While not the epitome of convenience, these facilities cater to the residents’ most pressing needs.

The quaint shopping street of Lai Tak Tsuen.
The quaint shopping street of Lai Tak Tsuen.

Previously, Lai Tak Tsuen reportedly had tennis courts for resident use, which now seem to have vanished or are hidden. During my visit, only playgrounds and open spaces were evident, with no tennis courts in sight. If tennis courts indeed existed in the past, their current location within the estate remains a mystery.

The estate features a playground.
Scenic views within Lai Tak Tsuen Park.
Scenic views within Lai Tak Tsuen Park.

Finally, the surrounding environment of Lai Tak Tsuen is exceptional. Nestled among low-density luxury homes, the area is tranquil with notably clean air. The views of Tai Hang from the shopping street are breathtaking, further enhanced by the serene backdrop of blue skies and white clouds. Situated in an elevated position, the estate offers a sense of being on top of the world—an absolutely delightful experience for anyone exploring this unique piece of Hong Kong’s public housing history.

There’s a hidden spot in Tai Hang’s Lai Tak Tsuen for perfect photos without needing to enter the buildings, capturing the cylindrical blocks!
Viewing the Tai Hang scenery from across the shopping street.
Scenes from Lai Tak Tsuen in Tai Hang.

Estate Information – Lai Tak Tsuen(勵德邨)

Location: 2-38 Lai Tak Tsuen Road, Tai Hang
Year of Completion: 1975 and 1976
Number of Buildings: 3
Building Types: Bicylindrical with terrace corridors, rectangular with central corridors
Building Names: Lai Chit House, Tak Chuen House, Tsuen Wing House

Sources: Wikipedia, Housing Society Official Website

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Reference (Chinese Ver Only)

  • 《房屋協會大坑道勵德邨 申請人入息將提高 辦法會在稍後公佈》,《工商晚報》,1970年10月26日

  • 《香港房屋協會宣布 勵德邨接受申請》,《華僑日報》,1972年4月26日

  • 《勵德邨入住申請書共達五萬九千多份中籤機會不及百分之三》,《大公報》,1972年5月9日

  • 《勵德邨廉租屋近六萬人申請 僅有千六單位將舉行初次抽籤》,

  • 《香港工商日報》,1972年5月9日《勵德邨設計華而不實 雙塔大廈外形雖好 佈置傢俬很難適應》,《華僑日報》,1976年7月21日

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