When it comes to breathtaking landmarks and Instagram-worthy spots around Hong Kong, the brightly coloured Blue House located in Wan Chai definitely makes the top of the list. But what makes this colourful gem so special? Well, set your burning questions aside, put the kettle on, and let us tell you all about this historical heritage building that we’ve all come to know and love.
Perched on the corner of Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai, this brilliantly blue building is more than just a prime photography spot to up your Instagram game. Dating back to as early as the 1870s, before the Blue House was even built, the site was actually a hospital which provided Chinese medical services to locals in the district. Shortly after the hospital closed down in 1886, the building was used as a temple, before it was demolished in the early 1920s and transformed into a four-storey Tong Lau (tenement house) which homed a martial arts school and osteopathy clinic. The building was eventually acquired by the Government in the 1970s when its outer walls were painted blue — thus, the Blue House was born.
Fun fact: When the building was repainted in the 1970s, the colour blue was used simply because it was the only colour the workers had with them at the time. For all we know, the Blue House could have easily been called the Pink House!
Apart from the building’s distinctive blue colour, its structure holds great significance too. Now a Grade I historic building, this four-storey Lingnan-style block is one of the few remaining examples of tenement buildings in Hong Kong that feature balconies, establishing its architectural significance which consists of both a Chinese and Western aesthetic that is rarely seen. In fact, this pre-war building was recently awarded the Award of Excellence, the highest level in four categories, by UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2017.
Fun fact: While other projects around our city have also received the Award of Merit and Honourable Mentions, the Blue House is marked as the first and only one in Hong Kong to have received such high achievements from UNESCO.
The Good Neighbour Scheme
Think you’re a pretty friendly neighbour? Well, think again. Having gone under the Government’s Revitalising Scheme, which launched back in 2009, one of the major highlights of the Blue House was its Good Neighbour Scheme. In order to apply for an apartment inside the Blue House, you would be required to first attend one briefing, one workshop on co-living, submit a CV along with a self-introduction, and write an article explaining why you wanted to be a tenant, your experience in community engagement, and how you would contribute to the community — crikey! Yes, it’s a long process to say the least, but there’s a good reason for all this. With 12 flats available for rent, the charitable NGO St. James’ Settlement, which was chosen to manage the Blue House project, came up with these strict rules in the hope of bringing back a sense of co-living community that historically has always been the unique culture of living in a Tong Lau.
Fun fact: Despite the seemingly tedious application process, over a whopping 150 applicants applied for the apartments within just a few months, with only 12 lucky families selected in the end.
Inside the Blue House
With both the outer façade and interiors revamped – but still keeping to their original aesthetics – broken tiles were fixed, termites-infested areas were scrapped, and flakes of dried paint were no longer left falling from the walls — but the best part of all was the insanely low rent! Ranging from 361 to 802 square feet, with monthly rents priced between $20,597 and $31,680, it’s no wonder that competition for a home inside the Blue House was so fierce. There are of course a few things that the new tenants might have to sacrifice for the cheap rent in order to preserve the ambiance of the old community. There will be no management teams to keep up the building’s maintenance, no cleaning services, and no security guards on site. Oh, and new tenants might just have to get used to the sight of people taking photographs outside their window every now and then.
Fun fact: For the longest time, this building didn’t have any working toilets that could flush, even when there were tenants living inside!
Around the Blue House
Ok, so you might not be the best neighbour in the world, but no worries, there’s still plenty of local culture to soak in around the building. Located on the ground floor, the Hong Kong House of Stories is a fascinating museum that offers visitors a realistic replica and close-up insight of a typical living quarter inside the Blue House. If you really want to get involved, keep an eye on their website for the latest update on events such as crafty workshops, live music shows, and other communal gatherings that are open to the public.
Fun fact: Apart from the museum, the Blue House is also home to a community service centre, a vegetarian restaurant, and a dessert joint — delicious!
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