Tai O is a fishing village located
on a small island west of Hong Kong. The island is inhabited by the Tanka
people, one of the earliest tribes to settle in Hong Kong from the mainland
China over a thousand years ago. The waterways are the roads to the community
with boats providing the main form of transportation.
In addition to fishing the residents have traditionally specialized in salt production which was used to cure the fish, and also traded to other communities. Much of the fishing and salt production economy was lost In the 1960s and 70s when the rapid urbanization of Hong Kong opened it to industrial processes which Tai O couldn’t compete, as well as to industrial pollution. Lastly the construction of the international airport destroyed the islands natural wetlands, reducing the native fish population even more. As a result the village’s population has been shrinking as people look for other jobs, but fishing remains the main occupation for its remaining residents.
For centuries the community’s livelihood has been tied to water and its houses have developed as a unique housing typology. Built elevated above the water on bamboo stilts, the houses are passed down from family to family and are in a constant state of repair and renovation. Each one is unique but also shares walls with neighbors combining the houses into a large community construction. The houses have adapted to new construction process, including metal sheeting, plywood and steel and lumber poles, and the modern conveniences of electricity and tv are now common.