a tight fit : photography : kowloon walled city : china : greg girard & ian lamboth

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 1photography by greg girard & ian lamboth : text and images via daily mail

Once thought to be the most densely populated place on Earth, with 50,000 people crammed into only a few blocks, these fascinating pictures give a rare insight into the lives of those who lived Kowloon Walled City. Taken by Canadian photographer Greg Girard in collaboration with Ian Lamboth the pair spent five years familiarising themselves with the notorious Chinese city before it was demolished in 1992.The city was a phenomenon with 33,000 families and businesses living in more than 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, all constructed without contributions from a single architect.

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 2
openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 3Mir Lui was assigned to work in the city as a postman in 1976 and had no choice but to go. He was one of the few people who knew the ins and outs and wore a hat to protect him from the constant dripping
Kowloon Walled City was notorious for drugs and crime but many of its 50,000 residents lived their lives peacefully until it was demolished in the early 90s. Canadian photographer Greg Girard and Ian Lambot spent five years getting to know the residents and taking pictures of the densely populated buildings. 
Ungoverned by Health and Safety regulations, alleyways dripped and the maze of dark corridors covered one square block near the end of the runway at Kai Tak Airport. ‘I spent five years photographing and becoming familiar with the Walled City, its residents, and how it was organised. So seemingly compromised and anarchic on its surface, it actually worked and to a large extent, worked well,’ said Mr Girard. Dating back to the Song Dynasty it served as a watch post for the military to defend the area against pirates and to manage the production of Salt before eventually coming under British rule. However, during the Japanese occupation on Hong Kong in the Second World War parts of it were demolished to provide building materials for the nearby airport. Once Japan surrendered from the city, the population dramatically increased with numerous squatters moving in. Eventually it became a haven for criminals and drug users and was run by the Chinese Triads until 1974.

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 4The shrieks of children playing on rooftops were frequently drowned out by the sounds of jet engines as aircraft powered through their final 100 metres on the runway at Kai Tak Airport

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 5For many residents who lived in the upper levels of the city, ion in particular, the roof was an invaluable sanctuary: a ‘lung’ of fresh air and escape from the claustrophobia of the windowless flats below

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 6The city, lit up during the night, was the scene of the 1993 movie Crime Story starring Jackie Chan and includes real scenes of buildings exploding

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 7A Kowloon Walled City resident who is dissatisfied with compensation payouts from the government sits on a pavement in protest as police start the clearance operation

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 8Food processors admitted they had moved into the city to benefit from the low rents and to seek refuge from the jurisdiction of government health and sanitation inspectors

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 9A workplace during the day would turn into a living room at night when Hui Tung Choy’s wife and two young daughters joined him at his noodle business. The children’s play and homework space was a flour-encrusted work bench

By the early 1980s it was notorious for brothels, casinos, cocaine parlours and opium dens. It was also famous for food courts which would serve up dog meat and had a number of unscrupulous dentists who could escape prosecution if anything went wrong with their patients. The city eventually became the focus of a diplomatic crisis with both Britain and China refusing to take responsibility. Despite it being a hotbed of crime many of its inhabitants went about their lives in relative peace with children playing on the rooftops and those living in the upper levels seeking refuge high above the city. The rooftops were the one place they could breathe fresh air and escape the claustrophobia of their windowless flats below. Eventually, over time both the British and Chinese authorities found the city to be increasingly intolerable, despite lower crime rates in later years. The quality of life and sanitary conditions were far behind the rest of Hong Kong and eventually plans were made to demolish the buildings. Many of the residents protested and said they were happy living in the squalid conditions but the government spent $2.7billion Hong Kong dollars in compensation and evacuations started in 1991. They were completed in 1992.

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 10Law Yu Yi, aged 90, lived in a small and humid third-floor flat with her son’s 68-year-old wife off Lung Chun First Alley. The arrangement is typical of traditional Chinese values in which the daughter-in-law looks after her inlaws

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 11Grocery-store owner Chan Pak, 60, in his tiny shop on Lung Chun Back Road. He had a particular passion for cats and owned seven when this picture was taken

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 12This hairdresser puts curlers in a customer’s hair at a salon in the city. Many people continued to live their lives normally despite drug and crime problems

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 13A child with a grazed knee sits on a counter top in a tiny shop which sells essentials like toilet paper and canned foods. Cigarettes are also on display in a cabinet

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 14The area was made up of 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, built without the contributions of a single architect and ungoverned by Hong Kong’s health and safety regulations

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 15Thousands of people went about their lives daily with many making do with what space they had to grow plants or hand washing on balconies above the busy shops and streets below

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 16Daylight barely penetrates the rubbish-strewn grille over the city’s Tin Hau Temple which was built in 1951 on an alley off Lo Yan Street

openhouse-magazine-a-tight-fit-photography-kowloon-walled-city-china-greg-girard-ian-lamboth-daily-mail 17The government spent around 2.7 billion Hong Kong dollars in compensation to the estimated 33,000 families and businesses. Some were not satisfied and tried to stop the evacuations

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