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In good spirits: Columbarium, Fan Ling, Hong Hong by HK SAR Architectural Services Department.

Photos: HK Buildings Department.

Believe it or not in the UK in the 1970s, bright young architects clamoured to get a job in the architectural services department of certain local authorities. Hampshire County Council and London County Council were both famous for the quality of their work, particularly in the design of housing. Most of those local authority architects departments were swept away in the reforms of Margaret Thatcher's government commencing in the late 1970.

It therefore comes as something of a surprise to learn of this sophisticated columbarium designed by a public architectural services department, not in the UK, but in that bastion of free trade and capitalism, Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, as the population ages, the demand for niches in which to place the ashes of your loved-ones, is growing. Land being precious is one thing, but also people do not want to live too close to cemeteries, and as the belief goes, amongst the spirits of the dead. All this has driven the cost of niches in existing columbaria to unprecedented levels, high enough to buy a decent family house in many cities around the world. This has prompted the Hong Kong government to intervene by building new columbaria.

The result is this project which provides some 43,000 niches in an elegant architecture that has a lightness and delicacy about its design, sufficient to lift the spirits of any that dwell there. The cost for a niche here is a tiny fraction of that of the private providers and such is the quality of the architecture and landscape design, few, save for the showy who have more money than taste, would ever select the often dismal offering from the private sector.

It was hoped that the new public supply of niches would force a price drop in the private provision, but with an enormous backlog of people seeking space this may take years to happen if at all.

Niches in the landscape.

Landscape feature.

Joss paper burner.

CGI image.

Site plan from the works department.


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