Monster Building: The Story Behind One of Hong Kong’s Most Popular Instagram Spots

The Monster Building boasts a multitude of interesting details.

Reports suggest that the 19-storey city block-wide apartment complex is considered to be the most densely populated place on earth, accommodating approximately 6,840 individuals within an area of 11,000 square meters. The world’s most affordable mortgage payment when purchasing an apartment. And likely one of the trendiest and most popular Instagram spots in Hong Kong.

This massive structure stands tall on King’s Road in Quarry Bay, comprised of five distinct apartment blocks and a ground floor shopping center. The amalgamation includes Montane Mansion, Oceanic Building, the Yick Fat Building, Yick Cheong Building, and Fok Cheong Building.

Over the years, Monster Building has become incredibly popular online, attracting tourists who visit the complex and capture photos while standing on the elevated concrete mounds. These photos often feature the towering figure of the “model” and the impressive Monster Building in the background.

Behind the scenes of the popular Instagram photo, there is a fascinating backstory to the apartment complex.

A Modest and Economical Start

The Monster Building originally started as Parker Estate, a public housing development constructed in the 1960s and owned by the government. It wasn’t initially intended to be a tourist attraction or a landmark. It was a project aimed at offering affordable housing for the less fortunate residents of the city, including new immigrant refugees.

During the 1950s and ’60s, Hong Kong saw a significant increase in its population due to the influx of refugees from mainland China. These individuals sought refuge in the city to escape the political turmoil occurring in their home country.

As a result of the influx of refugees arriving in Hong Kong, the housing market became overwhelmed and a scarcity of affordable housing emerged. Loosely constructed tenement buildings, lacking adherence to government regulations, quickly became overcrowded. As a result, impoverished individuals resorted to constructing squatter villages using aluminium sheeting on the hillsides and in rain forests of the city.

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In the early 1960s, the Hong Kong government was compelled to take action due to a crisis, leading them to initiate a public housing programme aimed at providing accommodation for the city’s impoverished Chinese refugees.

A local Hong Kong-born businessman, Watt Mo-kei, recognized a potential market opportunity to provide housing for the city’s new low-income population. He acquired a plot of land in Quarry Bay, along King’s Road, that was previously used as a factory ground for the Taikoo Sugar Refinery. The purchase was made through his company Cheong K.

Unprecedented Affordability in the Housing Market
Cheong K received financial backing from Wah Yuen Investment, another property company with a strong belief in the potential of the post-World War II real estate industry, to construct what would become Hong Kong’s most affordable housing complex at the time.

In 1964, Watt promoted flats within Parker Estate with prices starting at HK$15,000 – equivalent to an estimated HK$81,000 in 2021. Buyers were given a 25% discount if they paid the full sum. Individuals who had no choice but to take out loans were provided with a package that amounted to only 1% of the total purchase price, which was hailed as the most affordable mortgage payment in the world at that time.

The architecture of Monster Building, with a flat mezzanine encircling five of the 19-storey residential blocks, was designed to maximize the number of housing units within the limits of building codes and government regulations.

Funding Difficulties Amidst a Chaotic Time

Watt’s participation in the Parker Estate abruptly concluded prior to the commencement of the construction project. His company, Cheong K and Wah Yuen Investment, faced severe financial difficulties and ultimately went bankrupt due to a series of events that had a significant impact on Hong Kong in the mid-1960s. The banking crisis of 1965, the 1966 Star Ferry riots, and the 1967 riots all led to a period of uncertainty in the city’s housing industry.

The collaboration ended in failure when both companies were unable to repay the loans taken out to construct Parker Estate. Plans were put into action to build Parker Estate, and thanks to the efforts of local developer E Wah Aik San, the project was successfully completed in 1972. The first group of buyers were able to move in by August of that year.

The Parker Estate stands out from other buildings in the city, with its unique design and structure. The distinctive M shape of the five blocks housed a total of 2,443 flats, subdivided apartments, and unauthorized aluminium sheds on the rooftop.

According to recent estimates, the population of Parker Estate is approximately 6,840 individuals, based on the average household size in the city.

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Exploring Little Hong Kong’s Presence in the Movies

In the early 2010s, the rise of Instagram popularity brought attention to Monster Building in Hollywood. It was seen as a representation of the dense and chaotic nature of Hong Kong, a city packed tight and suffocating.

The Monster Building makes an appearance in Michael Bay’s 2014 film “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” where it becomes a backdrop for an epic battle between cybertronic Transformer robots and FBI agents in the city.

The building’s scene opens with the iconic Dutch angle shot, reminiscent of popular Instagram pictures of Monster Building. Additional shots capture the “Transformers” as they navigate the pedestrian walkway and the exterior of the apartment complex.

The 2017 live-action remake of the popular 1995 anime “Ghost in the Shell” showcased a visually stunning CGI scene of the Monster Building complex, immersing viewers in a futuristic Japanese cityscape.

The ITV show Strangers, which aired in 2018, features a gripping storyline about a professor who tragically loses his wife in a car crash in Hong Kong. In one particular scene, the show beautifully captures the essence of the Monster Building through four stunning shots.

A Formerly Popular Instagram Location

In mid-2018, there were reports of posters being put up by residents, asking tourists and Instagrammers to be considerate of the privacy of the Parker Estate residents and avoid taking pictures in the backyard.

Signs were placed by the owners of all five buildings on the concrete mounds that people stand on for a picture in September 2019. These signs clearly state that the area is a private estate and entering the courtyard is considered trespassing.

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In January 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the owners of Fok Cheong Building took advantage of the ban on tourists by installing metal barriers around the concrete mounds. This was done to discourage Instagram photoshoots from happening.

In November 2021, during The Beat Asia’s visit to Monster Building, there was a noticeable absence of people taking pictures or posing for photographs. This could be attributed to the effective measures implemented by Fok Cheong Building to restrict activities such as photography, gatherings, drone usage, and loud noises.

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