Photos of Hong Kong’s chaotic Kowloon Walled City, once the most crowded place on earth.

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Photos of Hong Kong’s chaotic Kowloon Walled City, once the most crowded place on earth.

Just outside Hong Kong there once stood one of the most densely populated places on earth.

From the 1950s until 1994, over 33,000 people lived and worked in Kowloon Walled City, a massive complex of 300 interconnected buildings that took up a city block.girard_kowloonB

Caught between China and the British-run Hong Kong government, the city was essentially lawless, equally known for its opium dens and organized crime as its dentists’ offices.

The city began as a low-rise squatter village during the early 20th century. After World War II, Hong Kong experienced a massive influx of Chinese immigrants. This led to a lack of housing in the city. In response, entrepreneurs and those with "squatter's rights" in Kowloon built high rise buildings on the space to capitalize on the housing demand.

Photographer Greg Girard spent years investigating and documenting the strange place before it was demolished. Girard collaborated with Iam Lambot, another photographer, on a book about Kowloon, titled “City of Darkness Revisited,” available here.

At its peak, more than 33,000 people lived in the 6.4-acre city. It was considered by many to be the most densely populated place on earth.










While located in Hong Kong territory, the Walled City was legally a Chinese military fort. This put the settlement in legal purgatory as both China and the British-run Hong Kong government ignored the buildings. Laws, regulations, and building codes were not enforced. "There was never any top-down guidance or planning about how the place should be. It grew as an organic response to people's needs," says Girard.

The only regulation enforced at Kowloon was the height of the building. Because the airport was so close, the building was not allowed to be taller than 13 or 14 stories.

"It was like a strange, urban garden. There was tons of household refuse. It was a bit of an eyesore, but compared to the area below, the air was light and breezy. It was nice to come up there after living and working on the lower floors," says Girard.

The lack of regulations was even more important for the many meat processors in Kowloon.

Girard has shared a number of photos from the project here, and you can check out the rest at the book’s website.


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