Hawker Reload: Hong Kong Street Market Urban Design and Hawker Stall Implementation

Groundwork Architects and Associates
Hong Kong

Hawker Reload was a four-year research and implementation project, which saved 4,036 hawker stalls and 63 street markets in Hong Kong from eradication. One evening in November 2011, a fire broke out at Fa Yuen Street – one of Hong Kong’s most prominent street markets. It claimed nine lives. Instead of moving to improve the fire integrity of the hawker stalls, the Hong Kong Government contemplated eradicating all street markets. Hong Kong street markets are a ‘must-see’ for tourists and the basis of livelihood for many. The thought of eradicating them for sanitary and/or fire integrity was beyond comprehension.

At the time, Groundwork Architects and Associates founder Manfred Yuen, who was also teaching at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, pulled together a cross-departmental research team to investigate how the street markets might be salvaged. The team also investigated how street markets and hawker stalls still serve tourists and the public.

The team introduced public engagement as part of the design-brief formulation. During 120 years of colonial rule, no governmental/policy-writing projects ever consulted the public in Hong Kong for opinions. Members of the team were stationed at street markets and interviewed 223 hawkers over 8 months to understand their needs. It was found that 70 per cent of stall owners are aged 65 or above. Design guidelines were developed so hawkers could choose what they want to ease their operational stresses. With minimal stall improvement costs in mind, it was found that 1.5mm galvanized steel was the best candidate to provide one hour of fire integrity – by which time a fire truck should have arrived.

Not only did the team manage to salvage all street markets in Hong Kong; it also persuaded the Government to create a 3-million USD fund to be distributed among the 4,036 hawkers, so that they may improve their stalls according to the standards prescribed – such that the fire integrity, electrical safety performance and user friendliness may all improve.

Photography: Groundwork Architects and Associates, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.