The architectural diversity of West Kowloon Cultural District

On one side, the classic Chinese temple of Tin Hau 
Made one travel back to the heritage fishing village of Kowloon. 
While exactly on the opposite side, the British Edwardian Police Station
Drew one around to the era of colonial platoon.

Such contrasting architectures, right next to each other and many more along the walking trail - 
All part of the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong. 

When it comes to visiting the heritage and historic part of Hong Kong, there is no missing Kowloon city. I remember visiting this HK neighbourhood eons back. Even back then, I remember how the place fascinated me with its vibrant culture. Turns out, it has now become a major art and cultural hub with the newly developed West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD). The place includes interesting West Kowloon walking trails that introduce you to a few famous landmarks in Hong Kong. These itineraries are about creating modern traditions where you can experience the amalgamation of the old heritage and the new contemporary world.

The West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong
The West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong

Two of these walking routes in West Kowloon Cultural District caught my attention – the first allowed me to virtually experience the diverse architecture and the second introduced me to the traditional craftsmanship there. While I could not physically walk to these locations, what I discovered made for a great virtual tour of West Kowloon. Through this post, I will cover what I discovered on my first West Kowloon walking trail of Hong Kong architecture. The 2nd post that follows later will cover the other route. Let’s begin our journey through the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Kowloon – the historic backdrop of Hong Kong

Kowloon Hong Kong

Kowloon is the peninsular part of Hong Kong, right across Victoria Harbour. The place has a long history where one part of it was given to the British by the Qing dynasty and the other was leased by the British for 99 years. A lot of it was left undeveloped by the British and used as a hunting ground. The developed part included a popular landmark called the Kowloon walled city which was largely residential for the Chinese.

Kowloon became densely populated after the 2nd World War when several refugees took shelter here. This is when several commercial and residential parts of Kowloon Hong Kong came about. Eventually, the region was expanded by reclaiming land on the west. Thus, arose West Kowloon.

Introduction to West Kowloon Cultural District

West Kowloon was originally inhabited by the local Tanka fishermen. The shoreline served as a dockyard for their ships as well as the Royal Navy. Around 40 hectares of land was reclaimed and today, this is what is popularly called WKCD or the West Kowloon Cultural District. This Hong Kong neighbourhood is being developed as a hub that offers a medley of experiences to travelers. It showcases authentic culture, heritage and traditions in a very contemporary setting. And this is what got me researching more about WKCD – and ultimately experiencing a bit of it virtually.

Various itineraries to discover WKCD

YMT fruit market murals
YMT fruit market murals

There are actually five itineraries in the form of walking trails to discover WKCD. These are termed as below –

  • Where modern architecture meets history
  • Made by hand – local art & craft in West Kowloon
  • West Kowloon: art in panorama
  • See Urban art in all forms
  • Feast your way through delicious local flavours

Of these, the first two are what I personally enjoyed. This post as I mentioned is about the diversity in architecture in West Kowloon.

West Kowloon walking trail to discover the architecture in West Kowloon

On this virtual trail, there are actually 8 West Kowloon attractions. Some of these dates back to the 1800s. Even in those, there is a delightful fusion of colonial touch and the intricate Imperial designs. Check them all out –

Yau Ma Tei Theatre

Yau Ma Tei Theatre - one of the famous landmarks of Hong Kong
Yau Ma Tei Theatre – one of the famous landmarks of Hong Kong

Built in the 1930s- before World War II , the Yau Ma Tei Theatre was the focal point of all entertainment. Today, it promotes Cantonese opera. The theater has a very Chinese-styled roof and a sweeping arch. Adding to this heritage structure are Art Deco pillars. These have faces with various emotions.

Red Brick Building in West Kowloon

The Red Brick building in WKCD, Hong Kong
The Red Brick building in WKCD, Hong Kong

Currently, this particular building serves as the office for Yau Ma Tei Theatre. However, that wasn’t its original purpose. This Red Brick building is the oldest surviving water pumping station in Hong Kong. Even today, you can see its cast-iron rainwater pipes and hopper heads from the outside. This West Kowloon attraction has a lovely verandah with arches and corbels.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit market

The fruit market in WKCD
The fruit market in WKCD

The 1913 market originally sold everything that this West Kowloon area needed. It was around the 1960s that there were several other markets established and the focus of this particular one shrunk to fruits. What one can look out for is the 1960s Art-Deco style of architecture. For me, however, it was spotting the old plaques on the various shop fronts. I believe, these are the original signboards that one can still see to date.

Tin Hau Temple – my favorite virtual stop on this walking route

Tin-Hau-Temple - one of the important West Kowloon attractions
Tin-Hau-Temple – one of the important West Kowloon attractions

It was in 1865 that the local Tanka fishermen built a temple dedicated to their Sea Goddess – Tin Hau. She is said to roam and protect the seafarers by her miraculous ways. It was this temple that later got relocated to its current place in the West Kowloon district. The small temple was gradually expanded to include 5 buildings and one free school. The architecture of the Tin Hau Temple Kowloon is Chinese – typical of the Qing dynasty.

Inside Tin Hau Temple
Inside Tin Hau Temple

The temple has a large courtyard connecting two halls. The interiors are very vibrant. The one place whose description fascinated me is called the 9 dragon wall. This is actually a bass relief of Chinese royal dragons – typical of Chinese palaces. Keep an eye out for the Tin Hau festival that takes place sometime in May. This is when you can witness the famous dragon dances, an exhibition of papercraft and tons of fishing boats decked with colorful flags.

Goddess of Mercy temple, Street of Harmony, Penang
Read about the other Sea Goddess temple built by the Chinese in Penang

Many of the Chinese from mainland, as well as Hong Kong, found their home in a small island called Penang in Malaysia. Even today, when you visit the place, you will see numerous heritage homes and Taoist temples similar to the one described here. Read about one such temple dedicated to the Sea Goddess in Penang.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station 

Yau Ma Tei Police Station - one of the points on the West Kowloon Walking Trail
Yau Ma Tei Police Station – one of the points on the West Kowloon Walking Trail

While on one side of the street is the typical Chinese architecture of Tin Hau Temple, the other side of this street in WKCD is a very Edwardian architecture of the Yau Ma Tei Police Station. This place was one of the shoot locations of the famous Jackie Chan movie- Rush Hour 2. The police station was initially a small one but the place was expanded to make barracks during World War II. The place now holds a reporting section of the Hong Kong Police.

176–178 Shanghai Street

Tong Lau 176- 178 buildings with the covered terrace on the ground floor
Tong Lau 176- 178 buildings with the covered terrace on the ground floor

Around the corner on this West Kowloon walking trail is a typical Chinese building called Tong Lau. These buildings have a characteristic covered terrace on the ground floor. Look out for a huge signboard that says 1940. This is a four-floored building that was built in that year and still sports the terrace on the ground floor.

Kowloon Union Church – the most unusual of all architecture in West Kowloon

The Kowloon Union Church
The Kowloon Union Church

This West Kowloon attraction caught my attention for its unique amalgamation of West and East. Built in the 1930s, the Kowloon Union Church does not look like a typical European church but has Gothic features like red bricks and granite structures and stained glass windows. However, each of these has been fashioned with elements from Taoist architecture. For example, the stained-glass windows are in the shape of Bāguà zhǎng (Bagua Eight Triagram) – a feature of Taoist culture. The roof on top of those brick and granite exteriors is a sweeping one – a typical feature seen in Chinese architecture. In fact, it is quite rare too, as it is made of Timber.

Turns out the Kowloon Union Church is one of its kind and hence, one of the very famous landmarks in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong West Kowloon Station

The West Kowloon Station
The West Kowloon Station

This West Kowloon walking trail ends at a very contemporary train station. The highlight of this train station is the arched roof. There are stairs that take you up the green roof. The entire stretch has been landscaped with flowering shrubs and foliage plants – almost like a green park set at a height. The highest point of the roof gives you a gorgeous view of the Victoria harbour in Hong Kong.

The contemporary architecture of West Kowloon Station
The contemporary architecture of West Kowloon Station

The rest of the Hong Kong West Kowloon station has been designed such that there is plenty of sunlight lighting up its interiors. There are actually over 4000 glass panes fitted around the station.

The glass covered interiors of West Kowloon station
The glass-covered interiors of West Kowloon station

When you see the ceiling from inside the station, you will feel as it were rotating. The rest of the interiors is filled with Art deco elements as well as steel and glass artworks. There are actually 6 artworks that one must visit when at the Hong Kong West Kowloon station. These have been done by various artists from Mainland China, France, Morocco, South Korea and Hong Kong  –

  1. Map of Hong Kong Culture –   Done by Qiu Zhijie. This is a green landscaped wall on the Level 3 departure hall
  2. Wallscape Hong Kong – This is on level B2 Adit connection to WKCD and has been done by MAP Office
  3. Mountains and Rivers without ends –  Created by Wucius Wong in the Level B2 Arrival Hall
  4. Rilic – 486 – Located on Level G entrance and designed by Om Mee Ai
  5. Lost in Neon – This is near the Level B2 taxi stand. It has been created by Javin Mo
  6. Horizon on the border – Tozer Pak designed this piece near the Level 2 entrance.

Xiqu Centre

Xiqu Center
Xiqu Center

A bonus end to this tour of West Kowloon Cultural district would be the Xiqu Centre which is dedicated to promoting Chinese Opera. The place has its own guided tour to explain the various architectural elements present within the building. The place is relatively new and was opened only in 2019.

The entrance has been conceptualized to represent a slightly contemporary version of the traditional Chinese Moon gate. The exteriors are designed like beaded curtains that have been slightly pulled back to reveal a lantern behind it. There are two sky gardens in the complex that offer you panoramic views of the Victoria harbour.

Inside Xiqu Center - an important attraction of West Kowloon Cultural District
Inside Xiqu Center – an important attraction of West Kowloon Cultural District

When you walk into the Xiqu center, you will be enveloped by the seamless curves and circles, all of which funnel down to a central space where the public performances and exhibitions are held.

The main auditorium is suspended 90 feet from the crowd, making it free of vibration and the surrounding urban noise levels. This adds to the acoustic pleasure of the performance. A highly recommended program in Xiqu Centre is the Tea House Theatre which has excerpts of popular Cantonese songs and stories – allowing one to get a lovely glimpse into the culture of the place.

That concludes my virtual tour of the West Kowloon Cultural District. I am curious to know what you think of this particular itinerary. Pin this if it has interested you and do share your comments below.

Before you go, pin this

WKCD walking trail
West Kowloon cultural district landmarks

This post has been written in association with Hong Kong Tourism Board. All images included in the post have been provided by them.

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18 thoughts on “The architectural diversity of West Kowloon Cultural District”

  1. A heritage and historical part of Hong Kong (Kowloon city) is something that exists and I was not aware of it. Reading this and getting to know about West Kowloon Cultural District added to my knowledge, personally. This is a really good amalgamation of history and the current scenario. Thank you for sharing this.

    • It was indeed illuminating for me to discover this. Kowloon and its heritage charmed me enough to hope that some day I will see it all with my own eyes.

  2. West Kowloon Cultural District seems to have a very diverse and interesting architecture indeed. A mixture of traditional and modern. From what I understand you took a virtual tour of the West Kowloon District. Did it feel the same as walking through those building yourself? I never took a virtual tour before, but I’d be curious if it makes you feel like you were really there in person.

    • I do miss the sounds and the smells of the place in a virtual tour. While it is not the same a real tour, given the scenario, am glad I could do what I did.

  3. Interesting blog Ami, as always. Hong Kong is often known for its sky rocking scrapers, therefore reading about an architectural trail here comes as a pleasant surprise. I am sure most of us are unaware of the fact that it can be historically rich. Beautiful buildings. Shall be adding Kowloon walking trial for my next visit here. You know how much I love walking trails 🙂

  4. Wow, there truly is some amazing architectural contrasts in the West Kowloon Cultural District! I Love this because it gives insight into the changes that this area has witness through the years. And, it appeals to my art/design fascination, too. I could envision the value of a walking tour in this area demonstrating the different historical influences represented by the buildings. If there isn’t one yet, there should be. (Actually, here it is right in your blog post!)

  5. WKCD is my new favorite destination in Hong Kong! What a pleasure it is for me to visit cultural heritage sites. The Tin Hau Temple drew my attention, but the Xiqu Center’s architectural design, both inside and out, has left me lost for words. The West Kowloon Station’s interiors, which are highly unique and refined, are also something I admire.

    • Frankly it is the templet that is my favorite on this trail. I can imagine how rich it would be – architecturally and heritage wise.

  6. Have never been to Hong Kong and all my thoughts have always been on the presence of skyscrapers and fast life. So it was a great read learning more about the cultural heritage of the place. Doing the Kowloon walking trial would really be an eye opener.

  7. I love the different architectural styles you find in Kowloon – from your favourite, the Tin Hau Temple to the ultra-modern Kowloon station. It’s interesting to read about the mass settlement and building post-WWII. I have to admit, I do like the light and curves of the Xiqu center, station and Opera house.

  8. Thank you for the article it really makes me want to visit hong kong. I love architecture and the level of detail that goes into these amazing buildings. It’s really cool to see West Kowloon Station which serves as a key role in the area for transport as well as a striking building. The contract between Yau Ma Tei Theatre art deco (it looks really ahead of it’s time for the 30’s) and the Xiqu Centre which both serve as central hubs for entertainment and the arts.


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