Jun 6, 2019 in Research

Article Critique

What kind of space can be defined as a comfortable, appropriate, ideal home? 

The answers of this question are opened to dispute in Hong Kong

Contemporary Hong Kong is apparently a wealthy city, which, in fact, highlights the polarization of the problem of rich and poor problem. The issue has been raised for a long time, but everyone tries not to notice the problem, continuing leading personal lives. The best representation of this polarization is seen in the architecture and the space division. For example, upper classes possess over hundreds square meter mansion, while the families of the lower class take turns to sleep on one bed in a few square meter room, called a subdivided flat. Such place does not leave much space for personal needs making people live constrainedly on several squares of shared space. When the government produces the new policies and implements the measures for resolving the housing problems, the middle class and high-society people receive all the beneficiaries. What I see from this situation is that the subdivided flat inhabitants are less favoured members of the community. As a Hong Kong native, I feel uncertain about the definition of the “ideal home” since living in a kind of subdivided flat I have never experienced the freedom at home, I have never stayed alone and I have never had my personal corner, where I could have some time for loneliness.  

There’s a Chinese saying, which sounds like “what kind of city it is, the same kind of architecture it has.” Architecture precisely reflects the local social culture and values. In Hong Kong, architecture is represented by various products, namely private residential projects, similarly commercial buildings, etc. They main idea of these buildings is to achieve entire practical and mercenary purposes, but, at the same time, to neglect the genuine desires of common people. Then higher level of frustration experience twenty-year-old fresh graduated architectural students, who tend to idealize their creative designs and want to implement those in practice, but they remain under a strict control of the increasingly cumbersome regulations and the “money-oriented” clients. As a result, constantly compromised architect have to adjust to the system and simply watch how their imagination fades and their dreams get lost. 

In my opinion, it is public, which should promote the foundations for excellent architecture, not the state. Furthermore, fostering the admiration for the culture and architecture is also important for the society. In the recent years, Hong Kong government was dedicated to deepening the conservation of historic buildings, which is a good beginning. I strongly believe that the society has to comprehend how to appreciate the architecture, then, local architects could have more space for creativity. Promoting the excellent architecture to public, the community brings people and architecture closer to each other, allowing them decide how they see their future. The space plays a very important role in understanding of one’s place in the society. 

I have visited several subdivided flats. It is a ubiquitous type of rental housing in Hong Kong, where live about 280,000 people. Such flats are also called the “low-income family asylum”. The main doors are left open, who does not add to the security. Being located mainly in old buildings, the ground floor is generally used as different types of stores. Having no elevator, I can only use stairs with weak lighting next to the store to reach the upper residential floor. 

 

Having entered the building I appeared in a very narrow corridor (approximately only 800mm width), stacked along with the tenant’s things. The window, located at the end of the corridor, is the only source of light in the interior. Thin and weak wooden partition walls are on both sides of the place. The entire floor is divided into six individual units with one shared kitchen. The average size of the individual unit is 5 square meters. Having entered a flat I can see some small space in the middle of the place, where I could hardly stand. No other person would feel comfortable near me, so it is obvious that the size of the room is unacceptable even for one person. This small place contains the toilet under the bed, the kitchen next to it, and the sleeping place. The space is so compressed, that I had a feeling that my thoughts were tight by the thought of other people, living in the same room. Such conditions are highly unfavourable for human health. Paying attention to the overall condition where one can hardly sleep physically, the weak sound-proofing of the walls adds to troublesome sleep. The place is also extremely dangerous from the position of fire safety. 

John Chan is a fresh Hong Kong architect and co-director of Frontop Studio, a company founded in 2018 by a group of classmates. They all were born in Hong Kong and studied in Australia University since 2009, having graduated from it in 2015. Using the knowledge John received during six years of education, he has a different opinion about the “co-living” style. He believes that architecture is not just a building; it can bring people closer to each other. “Co-living” precisely is his living style during the study phase in Australia. A vision of shared kitchen, toilet, and living space in the student dormitory with the roommates and friends is an initial scheme of “home”. In the current project, Frontop attempts to introduce a new “co-living” public housing system having provided a better, safer, private and liveable community in Hong Kong.

The first step of the design implementation is a hand scratch. John Chan believes that hand sketching helps understand the design deeper. A new design is not just a construction of walls; it is a part of the architect who has developed it. Each new project is born from the hands of the master. That is why, it is significant for an architect to feel how the pencil is put on the paper, how the scratches are made and the impulses come through the whole body. The emotions are expressed through the graphic language and help create an absolutely new piece of architecture. The limitations and failures of the project is seen better when a sketch is done by hand. In this case, an architect can feel each line, he/she can understand what should be corrected and how it will be practically implemented. A hand drawing helps the creator to “build” the project in his mind having considered each detail.

In the light of changes and contemporary vision of architecture, Hong Kong needs re-planning and reconstruction. Being oriented on the limited space and the desire for personal freedom, the unit tenement buildings in at least two rows with the purpose to create a neighbourhood are the core idea for preserving the national principles of city architecture and the implementation of fresh ideas in urban landscape. 63 Ha Heung Road is a public place, which may serve for the social needs without having lost its significance. The main idea of a new construction is to create a “home” under the place. In this case, the lower level will remain untouched and the higher space will serve for the public needs. The newly created building will fit the surrounding since the neighbouring houses are of the same height and form, which supports the city architecture principle. Concrete and weathering corten used in the newly construction are going to created a big contrast to the existing weak wooden partition in the subdivided flats. The new façade will differ from the existing buildings, but this difference will only highlight the uniqueness of the buildings and characters. Moreover, a new building creates an impression of transparency, having a hole between two sides of a building, grey concrete and brown weathering corten. This technique is used to attract public attention to new design. Having most buildings created of concrete blocks, an empty void in the middle will make you want to see what is there.

The first stage in building construction is its structure, because it reinforces the building. Having understood what structure will be applied, the architect discusses the construction details. According to the plan, new pre-cast concrete column on the top will be applied to the existing column base covered by means of four new metal structures, which will make two buildings into one. Having entered a building, a visitor will have an opportunity to choose between a staircase and an elevator, which are located in different parts of the building. Such location of the building elements was dictated by the existing historic part of the place, which was not reconstructed to meet the needs of a new building. Each of the sections will be easy to reach despite the existing construction on the ground floor. It is significant to see that this part in the plan where the old construction and the new building are going to mix up in a new architecture piece.  

The construction has a strange for Hong Kong people appearance. Being created for the needs of many people and following the space preservation requirement, this modern building still has some free place without any constraints. The space in the middle of the building has a purpose to remind people that they are free in their thoughts and actions (to the accepted frames). Paying attention to this element in the architect’s building, one can become of those people sitting on the steps or hanging out of the railing. This element was specifically created for people who need some personal space, but who do not have enough financial reserves to but a spacious house. Obviously, it is not a bad idea to have some empty space for people in public places to give them some feeling of freedom. The space allowed by the construction for public freedom does not take much city landscape, but at the same time it allows many people find that small corner where one will be able to stay alone with themselves despite the fact that that remain in public.

Having come out of the elevator, you can see a raw of different bridges, which seem to unite people and at the same time make them distant from each other. The architect has made an attempt to capture the moment of the 80’s traditional public housing feeling, where people shared the space. However, an element of modern isolation is present, which does not violate the personal space of everyone. The vertical interaction of the bridges helps people remain a part of the community. Being allowed some personal space, people still understand that they are a part of the community. The main purpose pursued by the architect is to see how the direct sun light hit into the narrow atrium and using the reflective material lights up the space. 

The floor plan is basically divided in two parts, shared space on the left hand and individual units on then right hand. Kitchen, living space, and laundry remain the shared parts, while bedroom has become an individual space. This specific construction helps provide better, safer, liveable space for people. The new reconstruction is an absolutely new implementation of the same constrained space. The difference is seen in the location of the elements, which brings the novelty to design. Sharing the major space, people still have the place to remain isolated and they also have the spots of individuality while being in public. Such contrast highlights the belonging to the building to the excellent architecture, which reflects not the ideal similarity of buildings, but the uniqueness of each space, which perfectly fits the urban landscape of the city. 

Standing in the middle of the building and looking outside, it is obvious that the architect has given a new life of the old project. The space seems quiet scary, but actually, it is a reflection of the thinking of a designer. This is how the excellent Hong Kong architecture should be implemented and what the ideal “home” is. It is the place where every person shares the space, however, remaining alone with personal thoughts and ideas. Hong Kong has some settled vision of housing and city architecture. However, the offered design does not contradict the existing postulates; it only brings some fresh ideas into the old versions of housing.

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