Tong lau

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Tonglau at Shangping Road, Shantou

The term tong lau or qi lou (Chinese: 唐樓 / 騎樓) is used to describe tenement buildings built in late 19th century to the 1960s in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southern China and South East Asia. Designed for both residential and commercial uses, they are similar in style and function to the shophouses with five foot way of Southeast Asia. Over the years, tong lau construction has seen influences of Edwardian style architecture and later the Bauhaus movement.


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.

Early tong lau[edit]

Early 20th century Tong Laus on Dixi Road in Chikan, Kaiping
Lui Seng Chun in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, was built in 1931.

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 Cantonese styles. 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 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.

Other architectural features of early tong laus:

An example of early tong lau or Kee-lau is Lui Seng Chun, a reinforced concrete building built in Hong Kong in 1931.[1]

Post War tong lau[edit]

Example of tong lau in Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong.
The osteopathy clinic in the Blue House, in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

Tong lau built after World War II were simpler in design:

Iron balconies were replaced with concrete ones and later sealed with windows. Roofs were often flat with an open terrace and later renovated to allow for additional residential space.

Wooden windows gave way to stainless steel windows. Air conditioning units were added to the windows in the 1970s and 1980s. Often clothes racks were added below the windows and hung above the sidewalk or street below. Signs were hung on the exterior walls and protruded onto the streets below.

Other features of the new tong lau included:

The post-war boom and influx of immigrants implies the shortage of housing in Hong Kong. Tong Lau was seen as a solution and many of these buildings were renovated to become rental units. In order to become spacious space, each unit was separated from adjacent units through brick party walls, is between 13 to 16 feet wide (about 4 to 5 m). [2]

The ground floor of a Tong Lau was used as shop space, but a cockloft was often built on the upper space in front of the partition wall of the kitchen, or utilized as working area. 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 use. Bathrooms and kitchens were also shared amongst the tenants on each floor. Tenants paid for electricity and water on a monthly basis. [3]

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, especially new town or private apartment. Few tong Lau are relatively found in Hong Kong today.[4]

On 29 January 2010, there was a significant incident of spontaneous whole-building-collapse at no.45J, Ma Tau Wai Road, Ma Tau Wai, when a five-storey tong lau of more than 50 years history suddenly collapsed at approximately 1:43 pm. There were four people killed, buried under the debris. Such spontaneous, cascading and complete building-collapse in Hong Kong has been quite rare since the Second World War and the incident raised concern of the HKSAR Government and the Hong Kong Public towards the safety of the aging "Tong lau" population in Hong Kong, especially those built with similar specifications 50 or more years ago.[5]

Mainland China[edit]

Shophouses in Paifang Street, Chaozhou
Shopping street in Guangzhou.
Tong Lau in Xiamen.

Southern China, namely cities in Guangdong Province, is where the tong lau or Qilou (Chinese: 騎樓) originated in the late 19th century. They were built by wealthy Chinese merchants in the cities like Guangzhou and, with the aid of overseas Chinese, in emigrant market towns like Chikan, Kaiping.[6]

Qilou styles varied from Chinese to European:

  • Gothic Style
  • Nanyang (Southeast Asia) Style
  • Ancient Roman Gallery Style
  • Imitation Baroque Style
  • Modernisme 
  • Traditional Chinese Architectural Style

Locations in Guangzhou with Qilou:

Continuous rows of tong lau or qilou from the early 20th century can be found in the old market town of Chikan, Kaiping, south of Guangzhou.


Tong lau buildings exist in numerous towns and cities in the southern island province of Hainan. Usually concentrated in a single area, these buildings are often dilapidated. In some cities, such as Haikou and Wenchang, the buildings have been restored.


The historical Bo'ai Road area is located in the heart of the capital city of Haikou. Nearly all the buildings in this neighbourhood are tong lau style. Beginning around 2012, the entire area has been undergoing restoration. It started with Zhongshan Road, now completed and converted into a pedestrian zone. The restoration is currently expanding outward with the facades being replastered and painted. Lights facing toward the facades to illuminate them at night are now installed on many of the buildings. With road repair ongoing, and new, tourist-related businesses replacing the old shops, the entire area is being developed as a visitor attraction.


The southern part of the town of Chengmai, located in Chengmai County, has a neighbourhood running along the Nandu River that consists of numerous, dilapidated tong lau buildings.


The tong lau buildings in the city of Wenchang's "Wennan Old Street" have been completely restored. Unlike Haikou's Bo'ai Road area, the facades are unpainted and appear gray in colour. The area is located downtown and is a visitor attraction.


An area within the town of Puqian, mostly consisting of a single street, is lined with tong lau buildings. The street is the main route from the port to the town centre. The tong lau buildings are in serious disrepair, many of which are structurally unsafe.


60–66 Johnston Road, in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, before renovation.
60–66 Johnston Road, Hong Kong, after renovation.
Tong lau housing a pawnshop at Nos. 369, 371 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. The building was demolished in 2015.

Tong lau are also found in Macau on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro near the Largo do Senado. They are better preserved in Macau, where they did not give way to newer buildings. Upper floors no longer house people and often reused for commercial use. tong lau here often feature Portuguese colonial architectural influences.

Hong Kong[edit]

The existence of tong laus was a culmination of a series of historic forces from economic development of Hong Kong, Second World War as well as the influx of Chinese migrants to Hong Kong.[7]

In 1898, the government introduced a building and public health ordinance which defined all the buildings including tong laus. In 1903, the government introduced a maximum height per storey of 9 feet (2.7 m), with a four storey limit. This explains the general appearance of Tong laus. Yet, the ordinance changed in 1964, so no tong lau was built from then on.[8]

Tong laus are mainly distributed in the following areas in Hong Kong:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Antiquities and Monuments Office – Lui Seng Chun Archived 22 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Report on the Collapse of the Building at 45J Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan, Kowloon. Buildings Department, April 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  6. ^ Woon, Yuen-fong (1984). Social Organization in South China, 1911-1949. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan. pp. 49–57. ISBN 0892640510.
  7. ^ "Urban Renewal Authority : 60 -66, Johnston Road". Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  8. ^ Preservation lacks long-term vision. (26 November 2008). South China Morning Post., p.5.
  9. ^ 堅尼地城唐樓集結 (Chinese)
  10. ^ 400萬以下有貨西環細價樓回報逾3.5厘 西港島綫年底竣工 (Chinese) Archived 17 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ 西營盤唐樓變太空艙 月租4000元包家電 (Chinese)
  12. ^ "Antiquities and Monuments Office – Introduction to 1444 Historic Buildings (Items #1159-1163)" (PDF). Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  13. ^ 唐樓癡公開投資秘笈 翻新吸豪客 回報17厘 (Chinese)
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad "Antiquities and Monuments Office – Introduction to 1444 Historic Buildings" (PDF). Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  15. ^ 百年唐樓遺蹟隱身中環鬧市 團體斥古蹟辦忽視歷史價值 (Chinese)
  16. ^ "Urban Renewal Authority : 10–12 Wing Lee Street". Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  17. ^ 灣仔87年轉角唐樓面臨清拆 街坊感可惜:呢類唐樓買少見少 (Chinese)
  18. ^ "Urban Renewal Authority – 186–190, Queen's Road East". Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  19. ^ 銅鑼灣唐樓劏房 呎租58逼新盤價 170呎月租9800 外籍客承租 (Chinese)
  20. ^ 跑馬地唐樓高價落釘 (Chinese)
  21. ^ 戰前唐樓拒重建 大坑兩家人 (Chinese)
  22. ^ 回流香港客815萬購北角唐樓 (Chinese)
  23. ^ 太古洽購鰂魚涌三唐樓 (Chinese)
  24. ^ 長綫放租博收購 西灣河唐樓300多萬有貨 重建掀尋寶熱 (Chinese) Archived 18 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ 筲箕灣唐樓升值百五倍 (Chinese)
  26. ^ 港島唐樓價 跌破200萬元 (Chinese)
  27. ^ 田灣街唐樓劏房失火母抱子危坐外牆獲救
  28. ^ 鴨脷洲大街單幢樓執平貨
  29. ^ 離島去到悶 轉場赤柱獨享天台BBQ嘆海景 (Chinese) Archived 19 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ 尖沙咀唐樓叫價6億 (Chinese)
  31. ^ 區內多戰前唐樓 議員料研究有助保育 (Chinese)
  32. ^ 旺角唐樓水表離奇被盜 警拘39歲無業漢 (Chinese)
  33. ^ "Brief Information on Proposed Grade III Items. See pp 214–215" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  34. ^ a b c – "20 pre-war shophouses to be preserved" (19 September 2008) Archived 6 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ 市建局收大角咀唐樓 呎價$13,614史上最高 (Chinese)
  36. ^ 250呎深水埗唐樓大改造屏風加強空間感 (Chinese)
  37. ^ 舊商號消失 頂層圍欄被拆 轉角唐樓 翻新失特色 (Chinese)
  38. ^ 石硤尾唐樓起火 男住客吸入濃煙不適 (Chinese)
  39. ^ 收購值四百億紅磡唐樓 離奇火燭兼漏水 (Chinese)
  40. ^ 重建土瓜灣唐樓戶主歡迎冀102歲母不用行樓梯 (Chinese)
  41. ^ 市建局重建馬頭圍唐樓 供逾400單位 (Chinese)
  42. ^ 何文田唐樓 強拍底價4.13億 (Chinese)
  43. ^ 九龍城400萬上車盤絕少 (Chinese)
  44. ^ 黃大仙唐樓賣200萬 (Chinese)
  45. ^ 炒家掃新蒲崗唐樓 (Chinese)
  46. ^ 樂富唐樓回報38厘 (Chinese)
  47. ^ 慈雲山唐樓售215萬 (Chinese)
  48. ^ 牛池灣村 (Chinese)
  49. ^ 一樓一古:觀塘月華街 180級富貴樓梯 (Chinese)
  50. ^ 唐樓遇竊 失平板電腦及現金 (Chinese)
  51. ^ 茶果嶺 淳樸樂土 (Chinese)
  52. ^ 葵涌唐樓劏房疑遭縱火 住客抱B疏散 (Chinese)
  53. ^ 荃灣市區(唐樓)環境研究及展望 (Chinese)
  54. ^ 焦點故事:屯門私樓 170萬上車 (Chinese)
  55. ^ 元朗盤大賤賣33萬平過深圳樓 (Chinese)
  56. ^ 大圍唐樓套房租七千五 (Chinese)
  57. ^ 阿婆也劏房 收租2.8萬 (Chinese)
  58. ^ 粉嶺 聯和墟唐樓180萬起 (Chinese)
  59. ^ 上水唐樓兩年冧價30% (Chinese)
  60. ^ 禁區沙頭角墟 (Chinese)
  61. ^ 西貢唐樓 賣本地好土產 (Chinese)
  62. ^ 大澳被評級的歷史建築物 (Chinese)
  63. ^ 長洲舊樓石屎剝落 飛墮行人路 (Chinese)

External links[edit]