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The History Behind Monster Building, Hong Kong's Coolest Instagram Hotspot
by: Rubin Verebes
December 29, 2021
Monster Building lays claim to numerous facts.
It has been asserted that the 19-storey city block-wide apartment complex is the world’s densest place on earth, with an estimated 6,840 people packed in 11,000 square meters. The world’s once cheapest mortgage payment at the time of buying an apartment. And probably one of Hong Kong’s coolest and hippest Instagram hotspots.
The building is a goliath located on King’s Road in Quarry Bay, an amalgamation of five separate apartment blocks and a ground floor shopping centre - Montane Mansion, Oceanic Building, the Yick Fat Building, Yick Cheong Building, and Fok Cheong Building.
In recent years, Monster Building has garnered an epic online following with tourists passing through the complex and snapping the photo stood while standing on one of the elevated concrete mounds and looking far into the sky, with the photo tilted up to enlarge the figure of the “‘model”’ and engulfing Monster Building.
Beyond the quintessential Instagram snap lies an interesting history of the apartment complex.
Humble and Affordable Beginnings
Monster Building began not as a tourist attraction or a landmark, but as Parker Estate, a public housing development built in the 1960s owned by the government. It was a project to provide subsidised accommodation for the city’s poor residents and new immigrant refugees.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Hong Kong experienced a sudden population boom as the Cultural Revolution in mainland China sparked a wave of mass immigration of refugees to the city to escape the political strife up north.
With thousands of refugees landing in Hong Kong, the housing market was choked and a shortage of low-income housing begun. Tenement buildings that were loosely built without regard to government regulations became overcrowded and the poor built squatter villages with aluminium sheeting on the city’s hillsides and in rain forests.
The crisis in the early 1960s forced the hand of the Hong Kong government to kickstart a public housing programme to provide accommodation for the city’s poor Chinese refugees.
Local Hong Kong-born businessman , Watt Mo-kei , saw an opportunity in the market to house the new low-income population of the city. He bought a piece of land, with his company Cheong K, that was once occupied as a factory ground for the Taikoo Sugar Refinery in Quarry Bay, along King’s Road.
Record-Breaking Cheap Housing
Cheong K received financial support from Wah Yuen Investment, another property company betting on the post-World War II real estate industry, to build then-Hong Kong’s cheapest housing complex.
In 1964, Watt advertised flats within Parker Estate starting at HK$15,000 - an estimated HK$81,000 in 2021. A 25% discount was offered to buyers who were able to pay in full sum. Those who were forced to borrow money were offered a package of just 1% of the full purchase price required to pay each other, described at the “world’s lowest mortgage payment at the time.”
Monster Building’s architecture, a flat mezzanine encircled in five of the 19-storey residential blocks, was an economical motive to fit as many housing units as building codes and government regulations would permit.
Trouble Funding During a Tumultuous Period
Watt’s involvement in Parker Estate came to a sudden end before the project began in construction. His company Cheong K and Wah Yuen Investment were wiped out and bankrupted from a series of events that rocked Hong Kong in the mid-1960s. The banking crisis of 1965, the 1966 Star Ferry riots, and the 1967 riots all contributed to an instability in the city’s housing industry.
The partnership failed as both companies defaulted on money borrowed to build Parker Estate. With plans available to put to use to build Parker Estate, the project was saved by local developer E Wah Aik San to construct in 1972 – the first buyers to move in came in August of that year.
The Parker Estate is unlike any other composite building – an oversized tenement block – or public housing in the city. The unique M shape of the five blocks contained an estimated 2,443 flats, subdivided apartments, and illegally-built aluminium sheds housed on the rooftop.
Current estimates based on the city’s average household size suggest that 6,840 people live in Parker Estate.
A Presentation of Little Hong Kong in the Movies
With the wave of Instagram popularity rising in the early 2010s, Hollywood saw Monster Building and its significance as a city packed tight and suffocating as emblematic of the dense and chaotic Hong Kong.
Monster Building is featured in Michael Bay’s 2014 “Transformers: Age of Extinction” during a city-wide fight of cybertronic Transformer robots and FBI agents.
The scene of the building begins with the signature Dutch angle shot of every Instagram picture of Monster Building. Further shots take the “Transformers” through the pedestrian walkway and exterior of the apartment complex.
The 2017 live-action remake of the popular 1995 anime “Ghost in the Shell” featured a heavily augmented CGI scene of the Monster Building complex, placing the apartment block in a futuristic Japanese city setting.
The ITV show Strangers which aired in 2018, telling the story about a professor whose wife was killed in a car crash in Hong Kong, captures four shots in a scene of the Monster Building.
An Instagram Spot No Longer (Maybe)
In mid-2018, internet users reported posters placed by residents informing visiting tourists and Instagrammers to respect the wishes and privacy of the Parker Estate residents and refrain from taking pictures in the backyard.
Posters by the owners of all five buildings were stuck to the concrete mounds that people stand on for a picture in September 2019, instructing that the area is a private estate and entering the courtyard is an act of trespassing.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020, the owners of Fok Cheong Building capitalised on the ban on tourists into the city and installed metal barriers surrounding the concrete mounds to prevent Instagram photoshoots from taking place.
In November 2021, when The Beat Asia visited Monster Building, no one was seen taking pictures nor posing for a photograph, presumably as a result of the successful intervention from Fok Cheong Building to limit “photographing, gatherings, use of drones, and yelling.”
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