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EXPLORING THE “INADEQUATE HOUSING” OF HONG KONG a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

spitzer school of architecture | travel & design fellowship 2014 proposal

melinda siew & raymond liu

table of contents

exploring “inadequate housing”* of hong kong destination | 4 inadequate housing (research paper) | 6 infographics | 8 questions to consider | 9 site + locations | 10 itinerary | 14 budget | 16 bibliography | 19

*the term “inadequate housing” is taken from Portraits from Above - Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities.”


a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

"Hong Kong is number one in the show of extravagance and ostentatious luxury, and number two (after New York) in the possession of an imposing skyline" - Kemenade: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Inc.


7,233 m



il e s


Hong Kong China Area: 426 sq mi Population: 7.1 million


INADEQUATE HOUSING a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

Throughout our architectural history education, we focus on famous architecture and take values from limited case studies. However, there’s always architecture on the verge of being erased or forgotten that could contribute to our education. These could provide us with an understanding of relationships among culture, social structure, economics, and architecture. The rooftop slums and other “inadequate housing,” located mostly in these old urban areas of Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, and Kowloon City, are a threatened fabric of Hong Kong which hold valuable information to solving or addressing the world wide problem of overpopulation in dense urban cities. They also provide possible strategies that can be utilized in housing or micro-housing designs. We propose visiting these three neighborhoods to observe, record, and analyze the housing and social situation as well as talking to professionals such as planners and architects in order to determine what lessons can be learned or what can be done to help improve the situation in Hong Kong and in other overpopulated cities. We think it is important to study how the common people attempt to solve the problems of overpopulation through these “inadequate houses” because there is value in understanding and learning from those who are not architects, planners or designers.

This caused the “Pearl of the Orient,” Hong Kong, to be perceived as the glorious harbor of Southeast Asia and architects studied only the buildings created by these renowned architects. However, under the layers of the shining city and golden trophies of towers that foreigners see in architectural magazines, journals, and tourist guides, lies the hidden and undocumented “inadequate housing” situation that deal with overpopulation and disparity among social classes. These issues emerged from the mass migration of refugees from neighboring towns and cities as well as those attracted by the illusion of a better life.

Since before World War II, Hong Kong has been a safe haven for refugees and immigrants from Mainland China and several other Southeast Asian countries. It was a hub for business and a place where the Mainland Chinese would gather in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. Even after becoming a part of China again, Hong Kong remains the center of East Asia. It is a shining new city and as star architects such as Norman Foster and I.M. Pei began to contribute to the sparkling skyline, Hong Kong began to appear on the architectural radar.

However, there were still those who fell through the cracks of these housing policies and had to resort to alternate living circumstances. Those who didn’t meet the criteria for interim housing opted to live in “inadequate housing.” Such “inadequate housing” takes the form of subdivided units and “bed spaces” within tenement houses as well as illegal rooftop apartments. Hong Kong turns a blind eye to these situations which are apparent from public utility, postal service, and property tax


In the past, Hong Kong attempted to alleviate the overpopulation and the growth of slums through temporary housing areas, also known as THA and interim housing. THA were wooden structures built in the 1960s by the Hong Kong government to provide shelter for victims of natural disasters or for those who could not afford public rental housing. However, these were prone to fires, termites, deterioration, and generally unsanitary conditions. In 2001, THAs were cleared and replaced with interim housing, which were concrete structures that “served the same purpose of accommodating those public housing applicants who were not eligible for allocation” (Chui 252).

charges for their “illegal” rooftop slums. Landlords allow up to twelve tenants in one apartment unit (which is four times what New York City allows). However, this does not keep residents of illegal rooftop apartments and subdivided apartments from having their homes threatened because developers are tearing down these buildings to build new apartment buildings that do little to solve overpopulation issues and selling them back to the people for more money. “Inadequate housing” seems to be a necessary evil because “these illegal structures...can actually serve as a buffer to the problem of the housing shortage in overcrowded urban areas” (254). Even attempts to demolish them do not seem to be a productive approach until Hong Kong can provide inexpensive housing for the population of people who fall through the cracks of their housing policies and figure out ways to solve transportation cost issues in relocating illegal rooftop residents to the outskirts. But for now, we hope that our travels and research will culminate in ideas of possible solutions for Hong Kong’s overpopulation and “inadequate housing,” such as integration of new infrastructure to improve living conditions or the creation of methods/guides to make the rooftop homes safer through simple changes in material, construction and organization. We are also considering designing iterations of planning solutions for specific neighborhoods that may help to alleviate the problem of “inadequate housing.” In the end, we hope that through creativity and design, we will make a massive contribution to the discourse of overpopulation, urban development, slums and the new typology of micro-housing.

“Notwithstanding the fact that these rooftop dweller are constrained in various ways by factors such as the government’s policies, social disadvantages and congested physical environments, they still make creative use of the limited space available to them in the tiny rooftop structures. Children used the rooftops as their playground and adults make their living by constructing their own kitchens, toilets, living rooms, and sometimes even “gardens” or “backyards” where they grow plants. Some ethnic minority rooftop dwellers have even set up shrines for worship adding a spiritual life to their limited physical and social space. Therefore, even though rooftop housing poses considerable challenges to these people many of them still make their lives easier through the creative use of the limited space” (Chui 250).



a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

sub-divided housing


average $2300 per 86 sf

income 60-70 sf

OVER 100,000

average midHKer $7000 per month average lowHKer $3000 per month source: Society for Community Organization of HK (July 2011.)

public housing

the net

income $2850.98/mo income $800/mo

meets gov’t criteria

3.5 million people


3.5 million people


those who fall through the cracks

source: Donal Tsang, Hong Kong Chief Executive source: Donald Tsang, Hong Kong Chief Executive


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

Are the housing units actually inadequate and in what way are they “inadequate,” but also what is “adequate” about them? What are the obvious problems with the architecture? (i.e. leaky roofs, poor ventilation, little natural light exposure, etc.) How can some of the evident problems of the “inadequate housing” be addressed or solved? (preferable with the resources available) Are the problems faced by residents of “inadequate housing” a result of poor urban planning? architectural design? poor upkeep? bad cultural habits? What are the different typologies of buildings found in the different areas of Hong Kong? Is the typology in these three towns different from each other and from the main island of Hong Kong? Does building height affect where illegal rooftop housing take form? How easy is it to navigate public transportation to get to each of these sites? Are the people content in their current living situation? How are people using small spaces creatively versus wasting space? What is energy like at night in each neighborhood? (i.e. level of pedestrian acivity.) What are our first impressions and opinions of these sites versus what the architecture conveys to us? Are the new developments along the Hong Kong waterside an improvement on housing? What activities do locals participate in and where do they take place? What materials are available/readily available and utilized in the areas we visit? 9


a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

Sham Shui Po

"...hardly anything old that had to be conserved... [hence] why everything has been knocked down since the early eighties and replaced by an uninterrupted jungle of high-rises of at least forty stories" - Barry Will, architecture professor at University of Hong Kong


Tai Kok Tsui

Areas Targeted for Redevelopment by Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority

SHAM SHUI PO A district located in the northwest part of the Kowloon Peninsula. It is known for its street markets and street vendors for electronic devices. It also contains the newly developed “reclamation” area in contrast with some of the earliest public housing estates and large-scale private housing developments. It was originally a rural village with only a few thousand inhabitants but has become a bustling community of around 400,000 in the last century. KOWLOON CITY An area on the Kowloon Peninsula named after the Kowloon Walled City. It contains the Kowloon Walled City Park and the former Kai Tak International Airport. In 1998, a height restriction was imposed on the area to minimize air traffic hazards for planes heading to and from Kai Tak Airport. However, with the closing of the Kai Tak International Airport and the opening of the new Hong Kong International Airport, the height restriction was lifted and many high-rise apartments were built.

Kowloon City

TAI KOK TSUI An area also in Kowloon, Hong Kong with mixed land use of industrial and residential buildings in the old sector of the neighborhood. The west side of this area has begun to be “reclaimed,” evident by the blocks of high-rise residential buildings being erected. Until recently, the population of Tai Kok Tsui has been mostly senior citizens and was characterized by the presence of immigrants who are not ethnically Chinese. 11





A // Tai Kok Tsui B // Sham Shui Po C // Kowloon City

Kowloon City

Sham Shui Po

Tai Kok Tsui



Day 1:

a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity

Task: Un-pack and settle in our respective relatives’ homes. Rest.

Preparatory Work

Day 2-3: Interact with Family / Friends

a | Get in contact with the Architecture Department of The University of Hong Kong to schedule interviews about their research on housing and planning for Hong Kong. Contacts: Christopher John Webster | Dean and Chair

Task: Talk to family about proposal, what our goals are, and life in Hong Kong. Explore our family’s neighborhood to get a general “feel” of environment. Talk to family and friends who live in subdivided units in tenement housing about living conditions and rent. Take pictures of interiors.

Professor of Architecture Program at University of Hong Kong.

Anthony Yeh | Head of Dept. and Chair of Urban Planning and Geography Information System at HKU.

Purpose: Understand or learn what it’s like to live in these environments and what the challenges are. Immerse ourselves in the city through culture, observations, and sensory. This can help draw a mental map for future explorations.

Kwong Wing Chau | Head of Dept. and Chair Professor of Real Estate and Construction at HKU.

Wang Wei Jen | Head of Dept. and Professor of Architecture at HKU.

Task: Roam the streets of Kowloon City. Take pictures, film, and sketch. We will focus on recording local housing typologies.

b | Contact family members and family friends about providing tours of their subdivided apartments and schedule interviews about their ideas and comments on the housing situation.

Purpose: Learn about the typological fabric of the neighborhood. Understand transportation system and urban infrastructure. Create an understanding that will help us map the life of the neighborhood.

c | Email buildings department and planning department of Hong Kong to better understand new developments and future plans and solutions to “inadequate housing” and overpopulation.



Day 4: Explore Kowloon City

Day 5: Immerse in Lifestyle Tasks: Visit well-known architecture we’ve encountered in case studies (i.e. HSBC Bank by Norman Foster, Bank of China by I.M. Pei.) Purpose: To see what put Hong Kong on the

architectural radar.

Day 6: Explore Tai Kok Tsui Task: Walk the streets of Tai Kok Tsui. Take pictures, film, and sketch. We will focus on land use in the neighborhood. Purpose: Study the uses of buildings that fall off the proper zoning of Hong Kong. Create an understanding that will help us map the life of the neighborhood.

Day 7: Explore Sham Shui Po Task: Explore the streets of Sham Shui Po. Take pictures, film, and sketch. We will take notes of certain materials used in the different types of buildings. Purpose: To see the common materials used in these housing and its appropriateness to the typology.

Day 8: Immerse in Lifestyle Task: Visit tourist attractions (i.e. Victoria Bay, Hong Kong Coliseum, Hong Kong Cultural Exhibition Center, Time Square of Hong Kong, Financial District.) Purpose: To see what brought international attention to Hong Kong.

Day 9: Explore Sai Ying Pun

Task: Meander the streets of Sai Ying Pun. Take pictures, film, and sketch. Observe the new developments along the waterfront. Purpose: To note if there’s a difference across the water from the three neighborhoods we’re

focusing on. Does a waterfront affect the type of new housing/buildings that get built in the neighborhood.

Day 10:

Venture the Outskirts of Kowloon

Peninsula Task: Take public transportation and record time to travel between outskirts and the center of Hong Kong.

Task: Organize the records we made and format into graphics or data. Try to answer most of the questions raised. Back-up all documentations. Purpose: To organize and prepare for design and planning exercises using all the information gathered. To make sure we have all the information and documentations we need.

Purpose: To get a glimpse of travel time and cost if there is a relocation of illegal tenants.

Day 19: Final Day

Day 11-14: Meet with Professionals

Task: Board airplane and leave Hong Kong.

Tasks: Prior to the trip, we will have contacted multiple professionals in city planning and design, fire safety, as well as development strategies. We will visit these professionals to learn more about the situations of dwellers in “inadequate housing.” Purpose: Gain more information than what we researched to learn how we can utilize these sources to develop temporary / interim strategies to alleviate the situation.

Day 15-17: Explore the “Inadequate Housing” Task: Search for ways to access inadequate housing, rooftop apartments, subdivided units, and bed spaces. Revisit areas of focus. Document/map these visits and revisits. Purpose: Gather as much information and documentation as possible. To also be able to relate to our research on a personal level and pick up information that is otherwise not listed in textbooks or internet.

Day 18: Organize Information



a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity


0 $1,02








cathay airline

appx. $15/day 19 days

travel pass for 20-24 days

two-way ticket from NY to HK and back

most meals would be provided at family’s home cost only applying to traveling and site visit lunch/dinner
















in case of emergency

staying with relatives

taxes hidden fees always better to over prepare

total: $2,219/person 17

We believe that demolishing is not the only approach to figuring out a solution to the inadequate housing situations in Hong Kong. It’s how the people who live in these situations and their creative ways of defining their lifestyles that inspires us to act as designers to develop a better ‘solution’ versus what the current actions are.



a threatened cultural resource | making space through creativity Cox, Wendell, Hugh Pavletich, and Alain Bertaud. “DEMOGRAPHIA: Demographics Development Impacts Market Research & Urban Policy.” DEMOGRAPHIA: Demographics Development Impacts Market Research & Urban Policy. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. Hong Kong. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Buildings Department. Subdivision of a Flat (Subdivided Units). N.p., 18 Dec. 2013. Web. Hong Kong. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Census and Statistics Department. Housing and Property. N.p., n.d. Web. Horton, Guy. “The Indicator: The Slum Exotic and the Persistence of Hong Kong’s Walled City.” (n.d.): n. pag. Arch Daily. Web. 28 Feb. 2014. < s-walled-city/>. Improvement of Slums and Uncontrolled Settlements: Report of the Interregional Seminar on the Improvement of Slums and Uncontrolled Settlements, Medellìn, Colombia, 15 February-1 March 1970. New York: United Nations, 1971. Print. Kemenade, Willem Van. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan Inc. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Print. Lim, William Siew Wai, and Hock Beng Tan. The New Asian Architecture: Vernacular Traditions and Contemporary Style. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 1998. Print. “Sojourning as Tempura - Inadequate Housing Photo Exhibition.” Sojourning as Tempura - Inadequate Housing Photo Exhibition. Society for Community Organization, n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2014. Tam, Isabella Yin Shan. Hidden Slum-Poor People in Rich Hong Kong. Thesis. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2011. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2014. < r43_11.pdf>. Tanabe, Ken-ichi. “Slums in the Southeast Asian Cities.” (n.d.): n. pag. Http:// Web. 13 Feb. 2014. <http://>. Wu, Rufina, Stefan Canham, and Ernest Chui. Portraits from Above: Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities. Berlin: Peperoni, 2009. Print. 19

exploring “inadequate housing” of hong kong

Exploring the "Inadequate Housing" of Hong Kong  

A Travel Fellowship Proposal by Melinda Siew and Raymond Liu. An effort to explore and document the upcoming erasure of a cultural resource...