There’s a lot of hype around Wong Chuk Hang, but don’t be surprised if your initial impression of the neighbourhood is a bit of a let down. Step off the bus and you may wonder why so many people have been talking about this narrow strip of industrial buildings on the south side of Hong Kong Island.
Don’t give up. There’s more to Wong Chuk Hang than meets the eye. Design studios and artists were the first to lay claim to vacant space hidden inside the area’s enormous concrete industrial blocks, followed in more recent years by an influx of art galleries looking for better value than what they can find in the overheated rental market of Central and Sheung Wan. New developments like One Island South and the Ovolo Southside are giving the neighbourhood an increasingly glossy sheen, with stylish cafés and sleek cocktail bars.
When the MTR’s new South Island Line opens at the end of 2016, cutting the journey time to Wong Chuk Hang to just six minutes from Admiralty, expect the neighbourhood to become even more gentrified. For now, though, it’s useful to have a guide to the treasures that can be found inside the area’s hulking old factory buildings.
But first, some history. Wong Chuk Hang literally means “yellow bamboo grove” (wong4 zuk1 haang1 黃竹坑), which gives you an idea of what existed here before the factories were built. In the 19th century, the name referred to a small village that still exists today, near the entrance to the Aberdeen Tunnel, but it later became associated with the industrial area built along Wong Chuk Hang Road in the 1960s and 70s. A large public housing estate was built nearby, which gave the area a solidly working-class character. More than 1,190 factories operated in the area in the late 1980s, including many commercial printers.
Some of those printers remain today, along with a handful of small-scale industrial operations, but the vast majority of factories moved to the mainland in the 1990s. Not long after, the housing estate was demolished in order to make way for a new MTR depot. Expect a wholly new identity in the next decade as luxury housing is built on top of the new Wong Chuk Hang MTR station.
In the meantime, the neighbourhood is filling up with passionately-run shops, art spaces and cafés that are taking advantage of the low-key atmosphere and spacious premises. Here are some of our favourites.
(1) Spring Workshop
3/F, Remex Centre, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Tel. (+852) 2110 4370. Open Tuesday-Friday 12:00-18:00 and by appointment.If Wong Chuk Hang has a heart, it’s here, in this not-for-profit cultural space developed by art patron Mimi Brown. Spanning 13,000 square feet, the space has room for exhibitions, events and artists-in-residence, along with ample outdoor space that has played host to a pop-up farm and the ongoing Industrial Forest, a captivating installation by Eskyiu that pays homage to Wong Chuk Hang’s history.
Launched in 2012, Spring is already nearing the end of its four-year programme, but you can still expect an exciting and unconventional roster of events from curator Christina Li, who is interested in exploring art through ways that go beyond the usual visitor-stares-at-wall paradigm.
(2) Blindspot Gallery
5/F, Po Chai Industrial Building, 8 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Tel.(+852) 2517 6238 Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00-18:00, Sunday-Monday by appointment.This 7,000-square-foot space was established in 2010 to bring contemporary photography out of the shadows of Hong Kong’s art scene. Since then, it has featured a mix of international and local photographers, with ambitious survey shows like Shikijo, an exploration of eroticism in Japanese photography, and A Permanent Instant, which documented the use of instant photography in Hong Kong art. The gallery represents prominent artists like Leung Chi-wo, who has been a mainstay of Hong Kong’s contemporary art and photography scenes for decades, along with emerging talents like South Ho, who trains his keen eye on Hong Kong’s cityscape.
(3) Whitestone Gallery
28/F, Global Trade Square, 21 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Tel.(+852) 2523-8001. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11:00-19:00.Japanese art is the focus of this 49-year-old Tokyo-based gallery, which expanded to Hong Kong last year. Director Koei Shiraishi focuses on Japan’s avant-garde Gutai art movement, which was founded in 1954 by painter Jiro Yoshihara, who wanted to break from the postwar era’s conservatism with performative and multimedia work. The gallery goes beyond Gutai art, though, with a more general focus on Asian art that has fallen below the global art scene’s radar.
(4) Pékin Fine Arts
16/F, Union Industrial Building, 48 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Tel. (+852) 2177 6190
This Beijing-based institution is one of the world’s most important galleries for contemporary Chinese art, thanks to founder Meg Maggio, who promoted the mainland’s artists well before they became internationally renowned. The Wong Chuk Hang branch, which opened in 2012, has a particularly strong focus on solo exhibitions. Recent shows have included works by oil painters Mao Lizi and Xie Qi.
(5) Yallay Gallery
Unit C, 3/F, Yally Industrial Building, 6 Yip Fat Street. Tel.(+852) 3575 9417Chinese art expert Jean-Marc Decrop and veteran gallerist Fabio Rossi founded this gallery in 2013 in order to showcase art from regions that aren’t often exposed in East Asia, including the Middle East, Turkey and Iran. The 6,000 square metre space also features work for China and the rest of Asia. Decrop calls Hong Kong “the new hub of the art world,” and he says it is the perfect place to establish a counterbalance to the North Atlantic dominance of global art.
(6) Sin Sin Atelier
Unit A, 4/F, Kin Teck Industrial Building, 26 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Tel.(852) 2521 0308Open by appointment.
Sin Sin Man is a well-known curator of Indonesian art, but she is also an artist and designer in her own right. Her Wong Chuk Hang studio is where she focuses on her painting, textile art and clothing designs, which draw from folk techniques and traditions around Asia: Javanese batik, hand-woven Nepalese cashmere, Mongolian felt. More than just a workspace, though, the studio is a social space with a cosy outdoor seating area and an inviting mix of Indonesian and Chinese furniture. The space opens to the public for occasional talks and art events.
(7) Elephant Grounds
1/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street. Tel. (+852) 2562 8688Open Monday-Friday 9:00-18:00.
Part of local scenester Kevin Poon’s growing chain of coffee shops, this location of Elephant Grounds occupies the first floor of The Factory, a trendy loft conversion that boasts an exterior comic-style mural by Italian artist Mauro Marchesi. Inside, the café serves excellent coffee, tea from local purveyor Teakha, decadent ice cream sandwiches and robust lunch dishes like Korean fried chicken – all of it beneath a mossy green wall designed by local firm Quest Terrarium.
Unit D, 22/F, Yally Industrial Building, 6 Yip Fat Street.Tel. (+852) 3462 2951. Open Monday-Friday 8:30-18:00, Saturday-Sunday 11:00-18:00. If you know anyone who works in Wong Chuk Hang, you’re bound to run into them into this penthouse cafeteria that serves pizza and hearty salads. Between the slow cargo lift that takes you up, the industrial chic decor and the sweeping view over Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen Harbour and the green hills nearby, there’s no forgetting exactly where you are.
(9) Sensory Zero
Unit G01, One Island South, 2 Heung Yip Road. Open Monday-Friday 8:30-19:00, Saturday-Sunday 9:30-19:00.Launched in 2014 by coffee obsessives Alvin Hui and Dixon Ip, this is one of Hong Kong’s best specialty coffee shops – and yet, mysteriously, one of its most underrated. Occupying one half of the cavernous Lane Crawford furniture showroom in One Island South, the atmosphere is bright and breezy, perfect for appreciating espresso made with a top-of-the-line Rancilio machine and novel devices like the Nomad, a portable espresso maker that Ip and Hui use to make cold sparkling coffee.
(10) Mum Veggie + Coffee + Sweet
Unit G07, One Island South, 2 Heung Yip Road. Tel. (+852) 2115 3348. Open Monday – Sunday, 8:00-17:00.
Furnished with old school desks and decorated with reclaimed wood, Mum is a pleasant vegetarian café with thoroughly enjoyable desserts (try the tarte au citron). Located around the corner from Sensory Zero, it attracts a robust lunchtime crowd of workers from the fashion companies located in the office tower upstairs.
(11) Wong Chuk Hang Stone
100m off Nam Fung Road, behind the Hong Kong University Graduate Association College.Not far from Wong Chuk Hang’s main industrial strip is a cluster of prehistoric rock carvings that depict stylised animal eyes. The carvings are a declared historic monument believed to date to around 1000 BC.
(12) Holy Spirit Seminary
6 Welfare Road.
Picturesquely capping a hill overlooking Aberdeen Harbour, this Catholic theological college was established in 1931, with distinctive Chinese revivalist architecture that was meant to symbolise the integration of the Church into China. The complex was one of 14 seminaries that were intended to be built around the country, but these plans were scuttled by the Japanese invasion. Unfortunately, the seminary is normally closed to the public.
(13) Tai Wong Yeh Temple
Heung Yip Road near Nam Long Shan Road.
The only temple on Hong Kong Island dedicated to Tai Wong Yeh, the “Big Prince,” which is a general term for divine emissaries who ward off bad fortune and disease, traditionally worshipped by people of Hoklo descent. This structure originated when local fishermen erected a shrine to the deity along the Wong Chuk Hang Nullah. In 1982, the government donated funds to allow the construction of a permanent concrete temple. Today, it sits under the shadow of the new elevated MTR line, but it is still as active as ever.
(14) Casa Capriz
1/F Kwai Bo Industrial Building, 40 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Call (+852) 9318 1730 to visit.
Irene Capriz says she is trying to “bridge furniture and art” with her collection of vintage Italian sofas, tables and objects. Capriz sources all of her pieces from Italy and her taste is impeccable, straddling the lines between retro and contemporary, quirky and functional, eye-catching and unassuming. In a city of lookalike IKEA pieces, a visit to Casa Capriz’s 2,500-square-foot showroom is a window into a more eclectic life.
14/F, Cheung Tak Industrial Building, 30 Wong Chuk Hang Road. Tel. (+852) 2522 2115. Open Monday-Saturday 10:00-19:00, Sunday 12:00-18:00.
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when the warm tones and clean lines of Scandinavian design were decidedly unfashionable in Hong Kong, which is only now discarding its preference for loud patterns and gaundy extravagance. Paul Fung and Susan Man have been guiding the city’s transition away from opulence with their expansive collection of original Scandinavian pieces by masters like Danish designer Hans Wegner, who was renowned for blending elegant simplicity with comfort and functionality.
M/F, 23 Wong Chuk Hang Road (entrance on Yip Kan Street). Tel. (+852) 2553 9811 Open daily 10:00-18:00.
Housed inside a former stool factory, Mirth brings things full circle with a collection of furniture sourced from around the world – along with home accessories, artwork, books, toys, clothing, shoes and more. Founder Kylie Platt has an eye for quirky, colourful, bohemian products, which makes this spacious shop a good place to find unique gifts.
Stay the night
(17) Ovolo Southside
64 Wong Chuk Hang Road.
Fashioned out of a high-rise warehouse, this stylish hotel has become an anchor for Wong Chuk Hang life since it opened in 2014. The ground-floor void space plays host to frequent art exhibitions, while the hotel’s restaurant, Cirqle, is a popular lunch spot thanks to its expansive terrace. Rooftop bar Above has a commanding view over the Wong Chuk Hang sports grounds, with Deep Water Bay visible in the distance.