Thursday, 1 October 2009

Tong Lau

唐樓(pronounced as "Tong Lau"), was a tenement building design in late 19th century to 1960s and unique to Macau, Hong Kong and southern China.

This is a picture of a typical Tong Lau, with a much taller building in the background.

Tong Lau is essentially a balcony-type tenement building for residential and commercial use. The ground floor portion is reserved for commercial use, mostly by small businesses like pawnshops> and food vendors. The upper floors were residential use and catered to Chinese residents of Hong Kong. Most Tong Lau were 2-4 storeys tall and 15 feet (4.5 m) in width.

19th Century Tong Lau encompassed Chinese and European architectural features. The Chinese component was based on building design from southern China, mainly in Guangdong Province. European influences were usually Neoclassical.

The Tong Lau roof used wood and/or Xieding tiles and iron was used for the balconies. The balcony's design was based on the Guangzhou-style. Windows used French styling and were made of wood and glass.

The upper floors were supported by brick pillars and protruded out to the edge of the street.

Inside, the the floors were connected by wooden stairs. Most floors ranged from 450-700 square feet with very high ceilings. Top floors were often living quarters for shopkeepers and their family.

The post-war boom and influx of immigrants meant Hong Kong ran short of housing. Tong Lau were seen as a solution and many of these buildings were renovated to become rental units.

Rooms on the upper floors were divided into smaller rooms and sublet as units by owners. They would only accommodate bunk beds. The middle of the floor was common space for tenants to eat and stretch. Bathrooms and kitchens were also shared amongst the tenants on each floor.

Tenants paid for electricity and water on a monthly basis.

The sublet of floors in the Tong Lau results in changes in housing regulations in Hong Kong (Laws of Hong Kong 123 °F (51 °C) chapter "Building (Planning) Regulations", 46).

After the 1960s, many Tong Lau were demolished to give way to taller apartment and commercial buildings. Comparatively few Tong Lau are found in Hong Kong today.

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