With more than 7 million people living within a little over 400 square miles, Hong Kong doesn’t have much space for new housing. It’s also an incredibly expensive place to live—so much so that the poorest residents often end up renting tiny, rundown "cage homes" that are only big enough for a bed. Architects from AFFECT-T now hope to help with a new set of modular bamboo homes that can be built as a mini-neighborhood inside old factories and other former industrial buildings.
The factory walls would provide protection from weather and insulation, along with hookups to city services. Since there’s so much space between floors in industrial buildings, there would be room for two stories of living space in each home. And most importantly, reusing the old factories will open up opportunities for transitional housing in prime locations.
"Residents of these small structures would live in the city center—able to use public transportation, and close to shopping, family, and jobs," says Dylan Baker-Rice, principal at AFFECT-T. "Living far away from the city center is one of the primary reasons many who have no housing choose to forgo public housing when it’s offered."
Each small house is made with bamboo because it’s strong, lightweight, and easily available; it was once commonly used for housing in the area and is still often used for scaffolding. "Bamboo grows abundantly and quickly, requiring less resources to plant and harvest than wood, and is one of the most sustainable building materials in China," Baker-Rice says.
The homes can also be easily customized by moving around the bamboo panels. "The micro-housing is really a system of construction rather than a one-off house," Baker-Rice explains. As a family grows, more rooms can easily be added, so the family doesn’t have to worry about moving again. The configuration of the rooms can also be easily changed.
The unique arrangement of the homes is intended to help people get to know their neighbors. "The screening of the bamboo helps with ventilation and light but it also creates a more public home where residents who share living accommodations on the same floor are encouraged to interact and share resources," say Baker-Rice. "The idea is that the architecture will help to foster a sense of shared space and community."
Hong Kong's government is already in the process of rezoning industrial buildings for residential use, so it's possible that these may be built someday soon. AFFECT-T built a prototype for display during the 2013 Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale, and is already in talks with the government about the possibility of building the homes; the government is deciding whether they'll provide transitional housing for the quarter-million residents who need it.
"It's an ongoing process, but we are very much engaged and invested in seeing them constructed," says Baker-Rice.