Research Centre: Urban Ecologies Design Lab
Active Dates: 2015-2018
Principal Investigator: Juan Du
Participating Family Members
Caritas Aberdeen Center
Society for Community Organization (SoCO)
With multi-generations cramped into room-sized apartments, the generally unregulated Subdivided Units (SDU) of Hong Kong are often the housing of last resort for many low-income working families. Not able to afford private market housing and not yet qualified for the city’s well-established public housing, an estimated population of 200,000 to 500,000 people live in room units created from subdividing apartments. This has created invisible financial, social, and spatial networks that are outside of Hong Kong’s formal housing systems. Unlike informal housing in China or slums in India, the extraordinary density of space and the conditions of living inside SDU are mostly invisible because they are usually found inside older residential and industrial buildings.
Working with social workers, community partners, and most importantly, the residents, researchers of The University of Hong Kong’s Urban Ecologies Design Lab (UEDL) along with students from the Department of Architecture, conducted Project Home Improvement from 2015 to 2018. The three-year project generated movable upgrades and small-scale improvements to more than 30 families (~100 residents) living in SDUs in the high-density urban areas of Hong Kong, including Aberdeen, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, Mong Kok and Kennedy Town. This project, including visual documentation, scale models, and physical mock-ups, demonstrations the intensive working process of the “Home Improvement” project that involves multiple rounds of consultation, research, design, fabrication, installation, feedbacks, corrections and reflections.
Each design, regardless of size, are collaborative projects that span a working process of multiple months of communications and collaborations between the users and the HKU project team. Through iterations of fieldwork and fabrication tests, guiding research and design principles were adapted to work with the spatial and economic challenges. Such as durability and simplicity to the habits of various age groups in the family; Easy assembly and disassembly to anticipate the high probability of relocation or displacement; Portable component size to anticipate the cramped transportation passages and installation space; and digital fabrication techniques to enhance precision and future replicability. The project aims to improve the living conditions of the residents through small-scale architectural interventions, and at the same time, collect much-needed research knowledge on various issues related to the phenomenon of SDU in Hong Kong.
The living conditions of 30 subdivided units in Aberdeen, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, Mong Kok and Kennedy Town were improved. The participating households as well as the larger body of residents in these high-density communities obtain knowledge of self-help upgrade. A set of research, design, and intervention principles, methods, and working procedures for improving the living conditions of small-scale residential units in extremely high-density urban centers were created and outlined.