1992: Hong Kong home

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Hong Kong home, 1992

This is an exceptionally tidy, well thought out home.  It makes the most of the limited space and  provides  some degree of privacy for this  middle-aged couple and their student son.  Before he passed away  the husband’s father  also lived here – four people living in less that 200 sq.feet (18.6 sq. metres).  For Hong Kong public housing in 1992, this was a normal family home.


There is no hall. The room leads directly out onto the public corridor accessed by neighbours to the many ‘ rooms’ on this floor, of this multi-storey building.  For ventilation they had to keep the door open.  But for security,  the folding  gate must be kept locked.  People walking past, would perhaps look in  as the family sat watching TV. There was no real privacy from neighbours.


In this one room ‘flat’ where do people sleep? There are no bedrooms, or walls  as such. They do not have the luxury of their own space. Behind this screen  there is a double bed and a bunk bed, separated by another screen – not quite full height.  These  rules are set, and enforced, by the Hong Kong Housing Authority.  There must be no permanent structures  and no full height partitions.  In a high-density place like Hong Kong, where space is at a premium, people have had to adapt accordingly – and have done so, remarkably well.


This home is cosy, welcoming and warm and reflects the couple’s traditional values and interests: respect for ancestors, Chinese almanac, statues of deities. It has loads of character and charm. It is comfortable because they have made it work.

At this level of density, absolutely any object that comes into the home – from a newspaper to a computer –  occupies valuable space. This has to be managed  by someone, or everyone, for the space to work. Too much clutter  and the space would very quickly become  overwhelmed.


I remember this family’s close-knit relationship; their support for each other and welcoming attitude towards me. They made this one-room space their own. It had character,  was well maintained and very comfortable – or as comfortable as anyone could make it. They lived here with a deep sense of compromise imposed by density. They showed me how it was possible to make it work.


Dr Nuala Rooney

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Nuala Rooney PhD, is a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing new approaches to design innovation and spatial research through storytelling. With unique skillsets, developed as a design educator in Higher Education institutions in UK and Hong Kong, her interest lies in exploring 'home' as a human centred space.

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