Kowloon Walled City can obviously not be literally considered as self-constructed. However, this Hong Kong district acquired a kind of autonomy for years and could not stop densifying itself until it was demolished by Authorities in 1993 (See Ryuji Miyamoto’s photographs of the empty Walled City, ready to be tear down).
The Walled City tackles an interesting problem about the connection such autonomous district could have with legality. In fact, there has been a strong phantasm of insecurity about it, probably encouraged by the authority when some neutral reporters like Greg Girard and Ian Lambot (read their “City of Darkness” from where almost all photographs we still have come from) affirmed that the district was the shelter of drug addict but not criminals.
Before it was demolished, the Walled City was the home of 50 000 inhabitants reaching an incredible density of 1 920 000 inhabitants per square kilometre.
As far as self-construction is concerned, let’s quote City of Darkness:
“With lifts in just two of the City’s 350 or so buildings, access to the upper floors of the 10 to 14 storey apartment blocks was nearly always by stairs, necessitating considerable climbs for thos who lived near the top. This was partly alleviated by an extraordinary system of interconnecting stairways and bridges at different levels within the City which took shape -somewhat organically- during the construction boom of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. It was possible for example, to travel across the City from north to south without once coming down to street level.”
Let’s add to this description, the one of this grid placed over the district’s temple (right in the center of the Walled City) on which inhabitants having their windows on the courtyards throw away their garbage, transforming the temple’s environment into a shadowy underworld.