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Living Large in Hong Kong.
February 23, 2013 2:02 PM   Subscribe

These apartments are so small they can only be photographed from the ceiling. "According to the Society for Community Organization, 100,000 of the city’s laborers live in sub-divided apartment units averaging 40 square feet (3.7 sq m)."
posted by chunking express (62 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
100,000 of the city’s laborers live in sub-divided apartment units averaging 40 square feet

Ballard foretold this.
posted by item at 2:11 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


firefox in osx hates that link. I can only see half of one picture. Do you have a print link or something that makes the page legible?
posted by leotrotsky at 2:17 PM on February 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Which device was this Quartz thing optimized for? Because it's clearly not mine.
posted by pwnguin at 2:30 PM on February 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Huh, I'm running firefox on osx and the page opens fine.

...and people look at me and Mr. Ant like we're mutant freaks because we choose to live in a 700-square-foot house. We Americans as a group have some messed up standards.
posted by workerant at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugg, I got the heebie jeebies just looking at it.

I was kinda hoping to see one hyper organized one though.
posted by ian1977 at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Works in Chrome on Win 7: scroll down.
posted by maudlin at 2:32 PM on February 23, 2013


The top banner bouncing around is really annoying.
posted by ian1977 at 2:33 PM on February 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I like the newsprint place mat on the main larger picture. That is smart. I will have to try that.
posted by ian1977 at 2:35 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would seriously consider using a hammock in there so that when you werent sleeping your bed wouldn't eat up half of your living space.
posted by ian1977 at 2:36 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also encountered layout problems. ff19 on linux here. works better in chrome.
posted by jepler at 2:36 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It works great on an iPad 3, if that helps.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:42 PM on February 23, 2013


Quartz is the website I keep bookmarked for when I want to explain to somebody how getting cute with website design can backfire.
posted by axiom at 2:44 PM on February 23, 2013 [19 favorites]


Fuck San Francisco. I looked at these and thought "I wonder how much I'd save on rent if I lived in one of those in the city?"
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:50 PM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


As we build Quartz, we are focused on the touchscreen and mobile devices that increasingly dominate our lives. Our design began with the iPad foremost in mind, and we modified it from there to suit smartphones and, finally, personal computers. -- Welcome To Quartz

I'm looking at this on a laptop and I find the site design tolerable but annoyingly cute. It seems to me that the main thing you have to do to a web page to make it tablet-friendly is to make the clickable zones bigger, so you can hit them with your fingers more reliably. Everything else designers try (like disappearing/reappearing banners and controls) always seems like a questionable trade-off at best.

The photos are great; very effective at giving you a glimpse into another place, and another's life.

I was kinda hoping to see one hyper organized one though.

I think several of them should count as "hyper organized," given the economic constraints involved. If you're working your ass off to just barely afford the absurd rent on one of those closets, you're probably not too interested in blowing what discretionary income you've got on a big set of matching bins. "Hyper-organization" in the Western middle class mode is perhaps a greater economic luxury than we imagine.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:08 PM on February 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


And, at $1300/sq foot, those 40-square-foot "apartments" are worth about $52,000.

I've lived in a tiny efficiency, and was pretty comfortable. It had a little kitchen and fridge and a separate bathroom, albeit one with barely room enough to turn around in. It was no bigger, in total, than a room at Motel 6, but it worked okay. I'd guess it was about 12' wide and about 14' long, maybe 16. I spent so much time working that I barely noticed it. It was the place that I ate, showered, and slept, when I wasn't at work.

But those? Those would be too small, even for me.
posted by Malor at 3:08 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seconding Malor. Small apartments can be just fine (provided they are properly ventilated and there is some closet-space or substitute), but this is taking it to an extreme.
posted by Yowser at 3:15 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Western Infidels: "It seems to me that the main thing you have to do to a web page to make it tablet-friendly is to make the clickable zones bigger, so you can hit them with your fingers more reliably."

You forgot totally disabling zoom. That's of utmost importance for a tablet-friendly web site, right? I mean, pretty much every "mobile" site designer does that now, so it must be right. Ugh.

Anyway - I'm contemplating a move to an expensive city (Boston) and it occurs to me that I could totally fit my piano and my couch in one of those apartments, so I guess in theory I could do it, since my couch is good for sleeping. I can't imagine not having problems, but as long as my piano's there I can stay sane at least. Not sure how my tiny-apartment neighbors would feel, though.
posted by koeselitz at 3:17 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing a House Hunters episode where the buyers were a couple in Oslo (I think). They had their pick of apartments in the 1200-1500+ sq ft. range. They had all the advantages of location and a high density neighbourhood, but with ample personal space.

I think there would be huge demand for apartments like this in a lot of cities, but not many of them seem to exist. Instead we get shrinking apartments in cities, and (up until recently) ballooning houses in the suburbs.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:30 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is warehousing, not housing, but it's not that different than comparable slum housing in 19th century London or New York. The big difference there was that many people shared a single space: one of the cases mentioned in Judith Flanders' "The Invention of Murder" was of a prostitute who shared an 8X6 foot room with her lover and another couple, plus a pair of street kids that she allowed to sleep under the bed.

Seconding Western Infidels on the idea of 'organized space' as a middle class luxury. Does anyone know when the building codes began to be developed and enforced in Europe and the Americas?
posted by jrochest at 3:47 PM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stunning photos. It was a little hard to square away the reality of illegally sub-divided places personally as an Angeleno, but when you consider that whole families live here, you get a better sense of just how terrible the reality is of living in these spaces that dot Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

And, of course, living in these spaces means living at the edge of the law. You get a little detached taste of this strange urban reality if you're a backpacker renting out a hostel, as chances are that you'll land in another illegally sub-divided place with an ominously threatening notice (that is, if you can read it) about how illegal your situation is.
posted by zer0render at 3:50 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The big difference there was that many people shared a single space

What difference? The first picture is of a family of three. They appear to have a triple bunk bed. I love my dad, but I can't imagine being within arm's length of him whenever I'm at home.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:04 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like an interesting topic. Shame it's on a terribly designed site. I can only see 3/4 of the 1st picture.
posted by dazed_one at 4:19 PM on February 23, 2013


leotrotsky, both the Guardian and the Daily Mail ran this series of photos. Here is the Guardian link.
posted by glasseyes at 4:21 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


And to add insult to injury, minimum wage was for fought tooth and nail in the past few years and came into force in 2011 at $28HKD/hour. That's a bit over $3USD/hour in one of the highest rent seeking places on earth.

The rest of the population as a whole ain't doing that much better either. As of January 2012, median income for male adults 25 to 34 is $13,000HKD/month and 35 to 44 is $16,000HKD/month. That's $1680 and $2060 USD respectively. English source: SCMP.

Both Donald and CY have done shit for the common people IMO.
posted by tksh at 4:22 PM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I meant to add that minimum wage factoid to say, the lower class in HK society live in squalid conditions barely making sustainable wages. The middle class above is not even keeping up with inflation, so it's that much worst for the those less fortunate.
posted by tksh at 4:26 PM on February 23, 2013


I shudder to think of the aftermath of a fire in one of those buildings.
posted by yoga at 4:40 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


zer0render, I'm not sure why you say the notice you linked to is "ominously threatening". It's a notice not to put things along fire escape routes, including back stairs and corridors. The notice states that any items found in these areas will be treated as rubbish and cleared, and expenses will be charged to the residents responsible.
posted by Alnedra at 4:42 PM on February 23, 2013


Architecture of density
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Alnedra: I was just about to post a correction; it seems like I posted up the wrong notice. Sorry about that. I assure you that notices about illegally subdivided flats do exist; just have to dig around to find 'em.
posted by zer0render at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2013


Thanks for the Guardian link, glasseyes.
posted by dazed_one at 4:45 PM on February 23, 2013


You know, I think that these could actually be a sustainable model somewhere with ample, genuine public and semi-public spaces, and a weak culture of individualism. I feel like the gut reaction of "ack! too tight!" is what partially led to our Progressive overdose and consequently suburbanization, urban renewal, etc. I'm not saying cholera and fire are awesome, but I think extreme density like this could work in certain highly thoughtful and well-executed contexts (that probably don't currently exist anywhere). Ain't nobody gonna catch miasma anymore.
posted by threeants at 4:45 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not to gloss over the class aspects here-- obviously it totally sucks that poor people have to live this way because they're poor. I'm talking more about this kind of extreme density in the abstract, executed more equitably.
posted by threeants at 4:47 PM on February 23, 2013


Just to follow up: here's a review (second from top) noting the hostel notices on the building front. The implication is that the illegally-rented blocks are also illegally subdivided.
posted by zer0render at 4:57 PM on February 23, 2013


it's impossible for me to get a sense of how awful this would actually feel based on the jarring ceiling-downward angle. who experiences space like that?

i remember my girlfriend's 3-mat apato in tokyo which was basically an apartment the size of three single beds. there was a closet to store bedding during daytime, an entrance alcove that doubled as a kitchen and a toilet just down the hall shared with one other apato. with a nightly soak at the local bathhouse and a beer vending machine right there it was actually kinda nice.
posted by ecourbanist at 4:59 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like living in a bunkroom on a submarine, except you get to leave whenever you want? Meh, I could do it. I don't need much.

Like yoga says, though, fire is a big deal. At least on a submarine, everyone is a trained fire-fighter, everyone knows every square inch of the place, and firefighting equipment is everywhere. I'm not sure I'd be happy with a gazillion people I don't know and trust living in the same building with me, with shady toaster ovens and stuff.
posted by ctmf at 5:36 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here are the five photos on the site, raw and unresized (since even opening them in their own tab force-resizes them): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

ian1977: “I was kinda hoping to see one hyper organized one though.”

Western Infidels: “I think several of them should count as ‘hyper organized,’ given the economic constraints involved. If you're working your ass off to just barely afford the absurd rent on one of those closets, you're probably not too interested in blowing what discretionary income you've got on a big set of matching bins. ‘Hyper-organization’ in the Western middle class mode is perhaps a greater economic luxury than we imagine.”

Yeah – I feel like all of these, especially #4 and #5, demonstrate pretty good organization of space. I mean, #4, which impresses me most, seems to house a family of 3, with cooking gear and a tiny fridge and two bunks. That one seems to be the "luxury" apartment of the five, though, considering that it seems to be the only one that actually has a window. #1 is interesting just because it shows that living in abjectly tiny rooms (it seems like the smallest of the lot) is a lot easier when you don't have any stuff beyond a TV, a fan, a pile of magazines and papers, a sleeping mat, and an iPhone.
posted by koeselitz at 6:04 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


As jrochest and ecourbanist have mentioned, SRO (single resident occupancy) and efficiencies have housed the working poor and seniors as well as denizens of megalopolis Asia tolerably well. Hanoi is a great example of a major city in which people live much of their lives out in public spaces (dancing in parks, drinking coffee on the sidewalks, etc) because the apartments are so tiny.

Part of the tragedy of the redevelopment of the American urban core is that all this substandard but nonetheless affordable housing is being torn down, leaving the urban poor with very few options.

That said, I think there is a kind of psychic exhaustion from the accommodations you make in such cramped living quarters. A friend who used to work in SF's Chinatown told me about how the members of one family of four who lived in a one-room efficiency would have to take well-timed walks to either let the parents have some alone time, or to let the kids get their homework done at the one table.

Threeants, c'mon sea legs, have you seen the SF and NYC proposals for mini-apartments?
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:12 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not all that long ago there were low-end hotel rooms in the US without much more space. And I've set foot in several old ruined farmhouses with an upstairs subdivided into spaces smaller than 40 sq.ft.

I never saw the interiors of the US city tenements of a century ago but I'd guess they weren't spacially luxurious either. The "liveablity" of small spaces (apart from having space to store tons of crap) is more about aesthetics, as evidenced by "captain's cabins" in any number of sea-going boats.

Well-designed, otherwise claustrophobic, spaces can have a pleasant coziness. The fact that they can be economically heated doesn't hurt.

The US 50s trend from cottages to large suburban dwellings was unfortunate in many ways. It was suited only to that generation, and has penalized succeeding generations.
posted by Twang at 6:32 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding Western Infidels on the idea of 'organized space' as a middle class luxury. Does anyone know when the building codes began to be developed and enforced in Europe and the Americas?

Late 1800s some time, if I recall correctly. Building codes originally came into being due to public health concerns in increasingly densely populated cities, after major fires and epidemics of diseases such as cholera and typhoid (which posed threats to all socioeconomic classes, not just those living in slums). It wasn't until a little bit into the 1900s when proto-human rights type concerns over the living conditions of the poor and working classes motivated more substantial regulation of both construction and maintenance of rental housing in North America and Western Europe, and when there started to be more regulations (and even some enforcement) around minimum amount of space per person legally required.
posted by eviemath at 6:43 PM on February 23, 2013


Photos of tenement interiors, and history.
posted by eviemath at 6:48 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read an article recently on Le Monde about a new law mandating a minimum residency size in Paris. Apparently people were renting "apartments" only slightly bigger than the ones in Hong Kong. It was an interesting article, but of course I can't remember the specific French term for the apartments (not petit appartement or logement or immeuble... it's driving me crazy now).
posted by desjardins at 8:31 PM on February 23, 2013


Chambre de bonne.
posted by Wolof at 8:39 PM on February 23, 2013


The Boston Redevelopment Authority is pushing "micro-apartments" of 300 to 400 square feet in the "Innovation District," i.e. the South Boston waterfront, where old warehouses and acres of parking lots are being transformed into hi-tech and biotech offices and apartments. The first major set recently came on the market - at $1,700 a month, which is enough for a real apartment in Quincy, a (relatively) short ride away on the Red Line.
posted by adamg at 8:48 PM on February 23, 2013


I'd like to see the photos but I can't figure out how to get to the next one.
posted by bleep at 9:12 PM on February 23, 2013


bleep: I linked to all five of them directly in my comment above.
posted by koeselitz at 9:15 PM on February 23, 2013


Oops, sorry and thanks.
posted by bleep at 9:19 PM on February 23, 2013


Micrologements was actually the word I was thinking of. The gist of the article is that although rentals are required to have 9 square meters of floor space, due to the housing crisis in Paris, desperate people are paying double the going rate for even tinier apartments. Some of them are turning in their landlords. (This is the original article I was thinking of. In the sidebar it links to a story about a guy who paid 330 euros/month for 1.56m2, which is $435/mo for 16.8 square feet. Holy shit. )
posted by desjardins at 9:49 PM on February 23, 2013


As someone who has stayed in Chungking Mansions, may I just note: eponysterical.

I think my room there was between 30 and 40 square feet. I was only staying temporarily, thankfully.
posted by mingo_clambake at 10:49 PM on February 23, 2013


> Not all that long ago there were low-end hotel rooms in the US without much more space. And I've set foot in several old ruined farmhouses with an upstairs subdivided into spaces smaller than 40 sq.ft. I never saw the interiors of the US city tenements of a century ago but I'd guess they weren't spacially luxurious either.

The tenements of a century ago were considerably larger than 40 square feet, more like 300 square feet, though shared by many more people. I'm no big fan of oversized housing either and I'm writing this from my rowhouse's upstairs back bedroom which is about 8" by 10". Which is still twice the size of these rooms. The standard US prison cell, at 6" x 8", is larger than these rooms.
posted by desuetude at 11:03 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The first picture is of a family of three. They appear to have a triple bunk bed. I love my dad, but I can't imagine being within arm's length of him whenever I'm at home.--justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow

No it is just a double. I know because I have that exact bunk bed! It is from Ikea. I recognize all the bolts I had to screw in with the cheap Allen wrench they include. Now it is split into two single beds, which, compared to those pictures, seems like a luxurious amount of room.
posted by eye of newt at 11:23 PM on February 23, 2013


Just you wait. In the future, after the economic/environmental/whatever crisis forces us all from the suburbs into city government housing, everyone will live like this. And we all will be wearing grey jumpsuits too.
posted by happyroach at 1:59 AM on February 24, 2013


Does anyone know when the building codes began to be developed and enforced in Europe and the Americas?

I dunno about the rest of Europe and the Americas, but here in the UK they started in 1667, right after the Great Fire of London.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:55 AM on February 24, 2013


a story about a guy who paid 330 euros/month for 1.56m2
This doesn't make sense. The figure there turns out to €211/m2/month. The apartment I write this comment in at this very moment is in a nice, central neighborhood I often liken to the Upper West Side of Paris is larger, furnished, and comes out to €32/m2/month. The one they are profiling must be month-to-month, based on vacation rental prices, come with free Michelin-starred dinners, or be covering for the tenant's illegal presence in France. It is emphatically not normal.
posted by whatzit at 5:54 AM on February 24, 2013


There is something very uncomfortable about the first 10 or so comments being about "I am having first-world problems getting the layout to look right on my costly tech gadget".

I look at the photos of the dwelling and I feel sick to the core. I lived in a tiny, tiny room in a student hall some ten years ago. I was only there for six months, I had a window and I could take three small steps in either direction - and I still feel awful when I think about that tiny, tiny room.

There but for the grace of God. I am so privileged no matter what I might think.
posted by kariebookish at 5:54 AM on February 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


I lived in a similarly sized room (actually it was about 2m x 3m, so more like 6 m^2 total but equally we weren't free to change the interior design to improve space-efficiency) for a few months with my wife (at the bargain-basement rate of AUD800/month). The room contained a broken-by-design single bed (it trapped your feet so you couldn't roll over, which makes sleeping surprisingly difficult), bar fridge, microwave, sink/handbasin, toilet, shower, desk, chair, and exactly enough residual floor-space for two small single foam matresses if you put the chair on the desk. It wasn't exactly fun but we survived: we spent a lot of time out doing stuff or cooking in the communal kitchen and about every other night I'd spend most of the night in the car, returning before dawn for a couple of hours of warmth and sleepy companionship. If the bed hadn't been broken it would have been easier - as it was we both had to sleep on the floor which was pretty cramped; a decent bunk bed would have been comparative luxury.
Would I do it again with a child? No way. Would I do it with anyone I wasn't already very intimate with? Also no way; but it's absolutely possible to live in such a space, hold down a decent job, and live an enjoyable life even in our personal-space-obsessed culture and even in your 30's.
posted by overyield at 5:59 AM on February 24, 2013


These are a sort of an interesting corollary to the tiny house "movement."

Here in the West, there's a notable minority that sees tiny housing as an antidote to the sensation of material overload, but here, it's a sort of boutique movement among folks who can afford to build bespoke tiny houses to achieve a sort of zen contentment. As much as I, too, romanticize the tiny life, I have to wonder how quickly the charming treehouse quality of tiny houses would fade if we all just packed in to Billennium density.
posted by sonascope at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you follow the QR code, it takes you to a Geocities throwback site that's apparently run by a human rights group in Hong Kong. These pictures are meant to depict what they call cage homes. Poking around a bit turns up some very low-res, artifacted images like this one and this one.

While it might be nice to wax philosophical about the differences in culture and overpopulation as we sit in our comparatively enormous homes, I don't imagine that the people living in these spaces are so keen on fetishizing their living arrangements.
posted by dubusadus at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


kariebookish: "There is something very uncomfortable about the first 10 or so comments being about "I am having first-world problems getting the layout to look right on my costly tech gadget". "

Well, I'm complaining that I don't own the costly tech gadget the site is optimized for. Surely the authors bear some burden for your discomfort?
posted by pwnguin at 11:30 AM on February 24, 2013


Yeah kariebookish, the complaint is that I can't see the article at all. The page never loads and the pictures don't show up, so without the links other people have provided I wouldn't even know the extent of my first-world privilege.
posted by subdee at 1:29 PM on February 24, 2013


For the site to load I'd probably have to allow qz. com to install cookies from:

Bizo
ChartBeat
Omniture
OpenX
Quantcast
ScoreCard Research Beacon
Visual Revenue
Wordpress Stats

Everyone's entitled to a living but I'll just stick with the Guardian's slide show.
posted by subdee at 1:33 PM on February 24, 2013


Wonderful images, but they leave me with so many questions. I wish there was an essay portion! I'd love to know why most but not all of the people pictured are old... what the deal is with the air vents (?) and why some people have them plastered over and some not.... and whether it is actually required by law to have a fan, a tv, and a rice cooker.
posted by parrot_person at 11:50 PM on February 24, 2013


Not quite sure what you mean by air vents, parrot_person, but presumably most of the homes have a fan because they don't have air-conditioning in such a small space, televisions are prevalent in just about most every household in the world that has consistent access to electricity, and China has a long history with rice that started with its domestication in China something like 12,000 years ago and culminates in its 26% share of the total worldwide rice market (with India at 12% in second and Bangladesh at 6% in third). Meaning that in a household without a stove or even access to a communal kitchen, the only way for someone living in such a tiny space to make the cheapest staple cereal grain available to them is with a rice cooker.
posted by dubusadus at 5:07 AM on February 25, 2013


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