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Uniquely HK

Feature Story

Filled to the Hilt Hong Kong’s Fascinating Reclamation History

Since the earliest days of the British colony, geographically and economically, Hong Kong has been substantially built on land reclaimed from the sea. Compared with the city’s coastline two hundred years ago, when Hong Kong was still a collection of hamlets and fishing villages, today’s landform is almost unrecognisable.


Expanding territory into the sea has been a human endeavour for hundreds of years, undertaken by countries and cities around the world. The Dutch have extensively reclaimed low-lying areas since the 13th century. In Hong Kong, the infilling of nearby shallow waters has played a pivotal role on the city’s development. In all, more than 6.3%, or around 70 square kilometres, of the city’s total area of 1,106 square kilometres has been reclaimed. But this vital new land accounts for more than 27% of the city’s residential area and supports 70% of its commercial activity.

The city’s eagerness to make its own land was led by its natural geography. Most of Hong Kong Kong’s original coastline was rugged and largely uninhabitable, with villages clinging to slivers of flat space between the mountains and the sea.

So when the area around you is mostly level, it is likely the work of man, not nature. Take a walk with us back through time to explore how reclamation projects have shaped and transformed Hong Kong. By visualising the original geography, we can appreciate the city’s remarkable transformation from remote outpost to one of the world’s great cities.


Central Praya Reclamation Schemes

The first road the British built upon taking possession was Queen’s Road, along the shoreline between Sai Wan and Wanchai. The very first reclamation scheme was undertaken in 1851 after a large fire destroyed much of Sheung Wan below Queen’s Road, where the Chinese merchants operated. Using the residual debris plus other rubble, the waterfront line was pushed out from Jervois Street, between Wellington Street and Morrison Street, to a new Bonham Strand, a generous 50 feet wide. Shortly thereafter, the waterfront in adjacent Central was also extended northward, from Queen’s Road to what is now Des Voeux Road Central.

In phases over subsequent decades, the sea wall between Central and Sai Ying Pun shifted still further out into the waters of Victoria Harbour, with Connaught Road becoming the new waterfront. Many of today’s landmark buildings in the district, including the Court of Final Appeal building (formerly the Old Supreme Court), Prince’s Building and the Hong Kong Club, then looked out across the harbour.


Wanchai / Causeway Bay 


Much of where you travel in Wanchai and Causeway Bay is reclaimed. You can trace the original shoreline by looking at where the hills begin. The first road built was Queen's Road East and part of Johnstone road that fronted the small hillside that is the Ruttonjee Hospital. A jagged headline formed the east point of Causeway Bay where the World Tarde Centre is now. Swampy wetlands surrounded the shores off the now Happy Valley and Tai Hang, with a causeway built along the now Causeway Road to keep seawater from flooding the muddy shores. Various reclamation schemes from as early as late 1800s began to expand the coastline relentlessly. A large-scale reclamation in the late 1800s created Hennessey Road as the new waterfront; a subsequent reclamation in the 1950s expanded it to Gloucester Road , only a stone throw away from Kellet Island, site of the Riyal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Then in the 1970s, another large reclamation created the Wanchai North area which houses the Ho ng Kong Convention and Exhibition, several large commercial complexes and government buildings. The latest Central and Wanchai Reclamation project created the HKCEC Extension, Bauhinia Square and the infrastructure for the Sha Tin Link and Central Wanchai Bypass Tunnel.


Old Kai Tak Airport/Kowloon Bay/Kwun Tong:

Back in the 1800s, the foothills of Lion Rock Mountain, Kowloon Peak (Fei Ngo Shan) and others comprised of villages built along the shallow shores and mangrove wetlands, with Kowloon Bay forming a natural shelter. Due to rapid growth of refuges from Qing Dynasty China in the early 20th century, plans were drawn to reclaim much of the shallow shores and wetlands to create a large residential area. The effort went through fit and starts over the decades and was partly finished and then laid fallow until the British leased the land for an airfield, eventually expanding into a Royal Air Force Airbase at the now old Kai Tak Airport.

The Japanese expanded the airport during its occupation and in the early 1950s, the Hong Kong Government built out a 3 km modern runway over the waters of Kowloon Bay and a large apron to create a full-fledge civilian airport. At the same time, reclamation began to reclaim land from the shores off Kwun Tong which was made into an industrial area of​​ go-downs, shipyards, factories, and a residential area above. Reclamation off Ngau Tau Kok came next where the current Telford Garden areas south of the foothills were reclaimed.
 Today, a new reclaimed harbourfront stretching from Kwun Tung to Kowloon Bay is lined with gleaming office buildings and a scenic boulevard. The old airport is destined to become Hong Kong's newest gathering place headlined by the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and a large sports complex being built . But the sleepy bay that once was there is no more.
West Kowloon Reclamation:
An integral part of the Airport Core Programme that was undertaken in the early 1990s, the West Kowloon Reclamation took out a large swath of the waters in the western part of Victoria Harbour off Jordan and Tai Kok Tsui. In all , a total of over 3.4 square kilometres was reclaimed with the bulk completed during the initial phase. Today, the Western Harbour Tunnel runs through West Kowloon and the area is home to the Airport Express Station, the city's largest mixed used development comprised of the city's tallest office building (ICC), hotels (Ritz Carlton and W Hotel), shopping mall (The Elements), a transport exchange (Airport Express and MTR), and high-end high-rise residential buildings. Once the vast West Kowloon Cultural District is completed, the area will be destined to become the city's cultural hub. Still, there are plenty there already for a nice visit, including its scenic promenade, the Xiqu Centre, the Art Park and Free Space.


Sha Tin:
To accommodate the rapid population growth from the 1960s to the 1990s, the government looked to the New Territories to create satellite towns. However, the flat agricultural lands surrounding the villages proved to be difficult to acquire and consolidate, so plans began to reclaim various parts of New Territories to build the new towns. The first of these is Sha Tin in where the swampy lands off Shing Mun River were reclaimed to create the new town. Today, Sha Tin is Hong Kong's largest satellite town of over 700,000 people. Other new towns include Tai Po, Tuen Mun, and Ma On Shan, most of them developed from reclaimed land.
Tseung Kwan O:
The last of the large satellite towns that involved extensive reclamation project is Tseung Kwan O. The Tseung Kwn O reclamation project was an ambitious effort in which over half of Junk Bay was reclaimed. The new town was created and replaced the villages that dotted the shore line including Hang Hau and Rennie's Mill (Tiu Keng Leng) which housed refugees of Kuomingtang loyalists. The total new town area is over 10 square kilometres with the vast majority of it built on reclaimed land. The area serves as the gateway to the beautiful Sai Kung District where some of Hong Kong's most scenic beaches and coastline are located.
Hong Kong International Airport/Tung Chung Arguably the crown jewel of Hong Kong's illustrious reclamation projects, the Hong Kong International Airport Project and its surrounding Tung Chung New Town is an engineering marvel to behold. The airport was built partly on CheK Lap Kok Island lying off the coast of northwest Lantau Island. The island was levelled and sea bottom sand was dredged and filled to form the 12 square kilometres new airport. A small hill of Chek Lap Kok was preserved to form as a sound barrier from the new town of Tung Chung which was also reclaimed from the shores and mangrove wetlands of Lantau, a notorious hilly island.
More reclamation was done in the last decade to create the entry port for the Hong Kong Zhu Hai Macau Bridge, another engineering marvel in its own right. Go visit Tung Chung and its surrounding natural environment and attractions which include Ngong Ping 360 Cable, the Big Buddha, Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak and the fishing village of Tai O.


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