This image of a one-room Hong Kong apartment was shot to draw attention to sub-par housing conditions.

A single square foot of Hong Kong real estate will cost you over $1,300, on average, which has led many to suffer in spaces so small, they are actually illegal.

The project--which was exhibited in Hong Kong in 2012-- was produced by a Chinese human rights group called the Society for Community Organization.

Shot from above, the spaces take on a vertigo-esque feel that must be much worse in-person. The SoCO’s mission is to promote equality amongst citizens. “Grassroots people are struggling day in and day out to keep their head above water,” they say.

The society hopes the images will bring attention to the miserable situations many Hong Kong residents live with.

Co.Design

Think Your Home's Small? Look At Hong Kong’s Illegal Microapartments

Complaints about needing more shoe storage or having no space for your third bike? Please. In Hong Kong, the price per square foot averages $1,300.

A “small apartment” in New York means under 300 square feet. In Hong Kong, that square-footage count routinely dips into double digits. With the world’s third-most expensive housing market, many of the city’s lower-income residents are forced to live in shockingly small apartments. A single square foot of Hong Kong real estate will cost you over $1,300, on average.

It can be tough to grasp the reality of living in what amounts to a very functional closet through facts and figures, though. These images, which show us a bird’s eye view of several Hong Kong microapartments, do a much better job. They were produced by a Chinese human rights group called the Society for Community Organization, whose mission is to promote equality amongst citizens. “Grassroots people are struggling day in and day out to keep their head above water,” SoCO explains. “Standing in the line of dejection are caged lodgers, tenants living in appalling conditions, aged singletons, street-sleepers, mothers with no one-way permit to live in Hong Kong, families made up of new immigrants and boat dwellers.”

As part of SoCO’s campaign to draw attention to the housing shortage, the group commissioned a photographer to visit dozens of Hong Kong families living in dangerously tiny spaces. They estimate that over 100,000 people are living in unauthorized apartments in the city, a number that may well be low. “In recent years, there are a huge number of partitioned rooms being built in industrial buildings,” the group explains. “As it is illegal to live there, those residents living at industrial buildings are not counted and hence the government figure is underestimated.”

As some have noted, the photos recall Kowloon City, the 15-story megablock that was demolished by city authorities in 1993. But unlike Kowloon, which was a kind of self-contained zone, these conditions are ubiquitous across Hong Kong.

[H/t Visual News]

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19 Comments

  • cameron

    I find it ironic to have an ad for luxury hotels pop up while browsing these incredible photographs of people adapting to scarcity.

  • Guest

    I think this is ridiculous. Don't make it illegal, GIVE THEM HOMES for crying out loud! What the fuck would you rather them be homeless?

  • Jcinsov

    Where shall we give them homes? do you bleeding hearts not realize there are too many humans on the planet?!
    The sad thing here is not how these people live, but that in a century we ALL may have to live like this!

  • some_hk_longterm_tourist

    I'm living in one now..$4,500 a month.. A small twin bed fills the majority of the room.  but mine is "deluxe" as I have my own toilet!

    I've stayed in a capsule hotel in Ginza once, and heck at least I can stand in this apartment!

  • Jewpacabra

    Apparently there is a demand for these small living spaces because of the payoff of being in Hong Kong. If the people play their cards right and work hard, they won't live in that place forever. Similar to a freshman in college living in a tiny dorm room. What if some exogenous, elitist society (say, Monaco) looked at how our freshmen college lived? "My god, TWO beds in a 17x15 sq. foot room? How appalling! 

    It's all relativism, dude.  

  • DamoS

    why illegal? Most of the pictures shown are public housing and are not illegal sub-divided homes

  • Eric Tan

    They are called partitioned "homes" and they've existed since post-WWII.  My Mother lived in one before emigrating to the States, and when I moved to Hong Kong, I lived in the same one (40 years later) for a short time.  Families of three or four can live in the space of a Western bathroom.  There's usually four to six partitions to a flat, and there is one communal kitchen and one communal bathroom.
    The partition walls are wooden and thin, so there is no privacy.  And NO, they are not illegal, and still exist.  As long as there is demand, these will exist.  Some families live for a few years while they apply for public housing, which they will get, eventually.  It's unlikely that people will live like this for decades, but probably it does happen...which is sad and demeaning.  After all, these landlords are making money out of it.

  • Anthony Kelly

    Just a quick correction for an otherwise great article.

    The block that was demolished was "Kowloon Walled City"

    Kowloon City is a large district in the area known Kowloon, and shouldn't be confused with the very small block that was called Kowloon Walled City

  • Darchitect

    Although it is not a good thing that people are actually forced to live like this, it has a sense of beauty in both aesthetical and functional ways. The stacked shelves and all the piling has a kind of design quality for themselves. I remember from my childhood that i loved to dwell in very small places with all my toys and stuff and it was the best of my times. Besides,This kind of living environment may be extremly unpleasant with American or European standards but It is not the same for asians due to cultural differences. In densely populated asian cities, everywhere you look is full of crowd. Everything is stacked together, alleys are narrow and shops are small. This type of housing is strictly related to their culture, and the economy is important too. For these people there may be no other choice. That's the best they could take from their living condition. There is a design lesson in it and maybe a design solution for it. All I am saying is that it is not necessarily a bad thing, this could become an opportunity rather than a treat.

  • TheoDusko

      Racial Purity? You think that a country becomes a world power through racial purity? Which countries have been world powers throughout history? Have they been racially pure? Rome? England? America? These countries are the ones that have traditionally welcomed other cultures and ethnicities (at least as long as they brought money) And besides that, have you ever been to Hong Kong? I live right next door on the mainland in Shenzhen and I can tell you there is plenty of foreigners in Hong Kong. Walk through Tsim Sha Shui (one of the busiest shopping areas) and you will see more Africans and Indians hawking goods than Chinese. 100 years of British influence and occupation doesn't disappear in 15 years. Hong Kong rose to become as successful as it is because they opened their doors to outside influences. The reason they are where they are today (incredibly overcrowded) is because once Hong Kong was returned to China, the mainlanders started pouring across the border hoping to get a piece of the pie. I for one do believe that China will rise to become a serious player on the global scene, but I think the one thing that's stopping them now is that most of them don't have any real understanding of the rest of the world --  something that's pretty important if you want to influence it. And how does one gain understanding of the rest of the world? By locking your doors to anyone different from yourself? Plugging your ears when someone with different opinions wants to speak? Belittling other cultural ideas to prevent them from influencing your citizens? I don't think so. Racial Purity... what a load of crap.

  • Krystaltokyo

    You are right on many points.  The reason that the population of HK can cloister together so tightly is the same reason that the trains in Japan can be quite literally packed to beyond over-full.  That reason is racial purity.  (it is very important for anyone reading this to first visualize the scenarios before opening their mouths and inserting their feet) By and large, the population of HK is still 100% Chinese and still share characteristics unique to the Chinese race.  Hence there is a shared commonality.  That is why so many folks in so many families can share such a microscopic apartment footprint and not start rioting.  Try doing that in the US.  There is no commonality amongst US citizens any more.  The concept for a large melting pot sounded good on paper but it simply doesn't work unless there is commonality.  Too much "diversity" without the uniting commonality leads to chaos and that is where the US finds itself now.  Modern politics, societal decay, and the pandering to illegals from all points of the globe have stripped any hope that the US would ever again have the same cohesiveness that might have once been the norm.  The US is fractured by its own "good intentions."  The Chinese will dominate the world as long as they never adopt the same "embrace anything at the cost of everything" politically correct BS that has destroyed the US.  If they keep their commonality, there is nothing stopping China from becoming the last world power.  (read on to the knee-jerk reactions below....most of the vitriol is coming from folks screaming how insensitive anyone who disagrees with them might be) 

  • Kda3251

    Excuse me, but I think your comment is unbelievably racially/culturally prejudicial and short-sighted.  The part you got right was "For these people there may be no other choice."  Obviously, you're an individual who has never experienced any form of deprivation first-hand.  I recommend you try it before making ludicrous statements like the one above.  It completely obliterates the valid point you were trying to make about "less being more" or the value of functional design over extravagant waste of space and resources.  Someone is making huge profits from these deplorable, inhumane living conditions and that is an outrage to be universally condemned by any reasonable moral or ethical standard. Please rethink your perspective; then take your piles of money...which I'm going to guess you have... and go do something positive and productive with them.

  • hmhm

    art imitates life imitates art. humans are good at adapting to their environment, with style and gusto. it sucks that we have to subject other humans to this kind of environment.

  • Almondsfast

     Asians like privacy too, just saying. It's a matter of severe lack of space than any cultural norm or design 'opportunity'