A bold design 40 years ago, now too costly to keep

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 May, 2006, 12:00am

When it was built 46 years ago, So Uk Estate was the envy of public housing tenants in the city.

Government architects, dissatisfied with generic, soulless housing designs, experimented with a more user-friendly style to integrate the Shamshuipo estate into its natural environment.

The 16 blocks were designed to carefully blend with nearby hills. Terraces, built against the slopes, have become favourite spots for morning exercise and leisurely walks. More than 300 trees were planted on the hillside, and along roads running through the estate. The greenery protects people from the heat, prevents landslips and creates areas where people can practise tai chi, dance or talk throughout the afternoon in the shade.

Many of the 13,400 residents have lived at the estate for more than 20 years. However, the estate will soon be consigned to history.

The government announced plans in March to demolish and redevelop the estate because renovation and maintenance costs, estimated at about $245 million, for the ageing buildings did not make economic sense. The buildings would require extensive upkeep, creating a continual nuisance to residents, it said.

Demolition, in two phases, will begin in 2008 and finish by 2011. Some residents will be relocated to public flats outside the district due to limited supply in Shamshuipo.

While the government promises to preserve most of the trees, botanists, and residents are concerned about the greenery which has become the estate's signature. The government has yet to decide what to do with the site. Residents have mixed feelings about the demolition. Some are excited about moving out of their dilapidated homes but are reluctant to leave one of the city's defining urban landscapes.