Cities of Repetition: Hong Kong’s Private Housing Estates

Department: Architecture
Active Dates: June 2013 - July 2016

Principal Investigator: Jason F. CARLOW (Co-PI), Christian J. LANGE (Co-PI)
Funding body: HKU Small Project Grant; FoA dean’s start-up fund


Throughout the 20th Century, in Hong Kong and around the world, the prefabrication of standardized architectural elements has enabled builders, governments and developers to increase the scale and pace of construction. During the influx of new residents to Hong Kong in waves throughout the mid-20th Century, new high-rise housing types were invented and built all over Hong Kong. The housing produced was tall, dense and standardized and built to house as many residents as possible as quickly as possible. While the history and architecture of public housing has been well researched and documented, relatively little has been done to trace the evolution of Hong Kong’s private housing estates.

The Cities of Repetition project provides a comprehensive graphic documentation and analysis of the largest Hong Kong housing estates built by private developers from the late 1960’s through the early 2000’s. The original drawings and diagrams illustrate and compare the ultra-dense, mass-produced, highly repetitive built environments in which tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents live. Drawings and plans not only display the immense scale of the housing estates within the city, but also present the hundreds of similarly planned housing units and their subtle differences. The exhibit and larger research project present a comprehensive analysis of the architectural and spatial realities of some of the most densely populated, urban environments ever built.


The project sets out to document degrees of repetition and standardization across Hong Kong’s largest housing estates and to visualize the close relationship between building code and building form in profit-driven housing projects.


The project shows that most all of Hong Kong’s largest housing estates share a single tower type with minimal adjustments for site conditions or unit variation. Over the course of the late 20th Century tower blocks became more repetitive as land value increased, code restrictions became tighter, advances in structural engineering allowed buildings to become taller and design was digitalized.


  • Exhibition, Cities of Repetition: Hong Kong’s Privately Developed Housing Estates, July – August 2015, HKU Shanghai Study Center, Shanghai, China
  • Lecture, AA Symposium, “Cities & Specificities, AA Visiting School Shanghai, Shanghai, China.
  • Book (Forthcoming) Cities of Repitition: Hong Kong’s Private Housing Estates, co-authored book with Christian J. Lange, (in contract negotiations with publisher).

Anticipated Impact

The project forms a critical graphic history of the densification of Hong Kong over the last 50 years. Broader publication will provide architects and urban designers across China, East Asia and the world with examples of extremely dense development and warn them against the possible dangers of overly standardized and monotonous urban environments.