Hong Kong’s abandoned sites pictured in all their decaying glory
Living heritage of Hong Kong
  • HK Urbex’s first book, Spatial Cemetery, is a collection of haunting images shot by an anonymous team of urban explorers
  • They are hoping their actions help preserve the city’s fading heritage

HK Urbex – Hong Kong Urban Exploration – is an underground collective that documents deserted, off-limits spaces, its photographers protecting their identities with hats, hoods, masks and pseudonyms.

Pictures taken over the six years the group has been exploring these hidden sites can be found on a Facebook page that has attracted more than 20,000 followers.

This month, HK Urbex’s first book, Spatial Cemetery: A Journey Beneath the Surface of Hidden Hong Kong, will be released by local publisher Blacksmith Books.

“HK Urbex has grown into a platform for us to showcase the many distinctive sites and unique spaces that make Hong Kong what it is, magical places fast being pulled down and destroyed,” says a member who goes by the moniker “Ghost”.

The exterior of an abandoned cinema. Photo: HK Urbex

Inspired by Urbex groups in the United States, Europe and Australia, a handful of photographers and filmmakers founded a Hong Kong chapter after stumbling upon an abandoned site in 2013 while scouting locations for an unrelated film project.

“All our members have a love for Hong Kong’s unique architecture and culture,” says member Echo Delta. “Many of these sites are private or fenced off, inaccessible to most people. They either continue rotting or are sold off and bulldozed before they are documented. These stories present a Hong Kong that has a truly unique history […] Our main ethos is to tell the forgotten stories.”

Finding locations isn’t easy: old books are scoured, old maps perused, forums checked and sites evaluated on historical and architectural merit. An initial reconnais­sance assesses the security of a site before the team decides to access it – most of what HK Urbex does is technically illegal.

“The challenge is always the fact that we are tres­passing,” says Echo Delta. “We know the dangers and risks if we are caught, but that has only happened a few times, luckily without involving the police. Even though we knowingly trespass, we make it a policy to never damage property or remove anything from the site. It’s like we were never there.”

Globally, most Urbex-explored sites are in areas largely abandoned, but in Hong Kong urban density means many sites are hidden in plain sight, amid the buzz of a city with some of the most expensive real estate on Earth, which means conservation is not always a priority.

“The Hong Kong government has a not-so-friendly policy towards heritage preservation,” says Ghost, “but we’ve helped heritage activist groups get a view into sites to fight for better preservation. In some cases, we’ve helped temporarily save them, such as the State Theatre building, in North Point.”
Old posters at the cinema. Photo: HK Urbex

For Nox, who at 29 is the youngest member of the group, HK Urbex’s adrenaline-fuelled activism is encapsulated by a journey he took underground with the crew, deep into the Ma On Shan mines.

“There was almost a void of sensation, you start hearing details you normally wouldn’t – the creaking of wood from a rotten support beam as you step over it,” he says. “We were walking for hours […] probably 100 metres underground with only a crappy printed map and our senses to guide us – no internet, no GPS, nothing.”

And HK Urbex has already set its sights on a follow-up to Spatial Cemetery.

“We have so many unpublished locations and time is running out for many of them,” says Ghost. “In as little as 20 years, there won’t be that unique Hong Kong heritage or architecture that truly show­cases the nature of the city.

“There’s no one else out there like us. And the govern­ment should be more active in preserving these places, because it’s also preserving our Hong Kong identity.”

A swimming pool at a residential development. Photo: HK Urbex
Inside a 1970s-built ‘resort’. Photo: HK Urbex
A store room on the site. Photo: HK Urbex
The arcade room. Photo: HK Urbex
The pool room. Photo: HK Urbex
Inside a former detention centre for Vietnamese “boatpeople” off Hong Kong Island. Photo: HK Urbex
A fax machine and transceiver set. Photo: HK Urbex
An old broadcasting studio. Photo: HK Urbex
Inside the former broadcasting studio. Photo: HK Urbex