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Adaptable Housing in Hing Wah Estate II (Thesis 1999/2000)

By : Chan Shek Lun, Conan

Demographic change in Hong Kong over the past 40 years, led by social and economic change, led to a diversity of households, expectations, and accommodation needs. However in public housing design, customized provisions were never considered. Today, architects are isolated from the final user by various middlemen, and have no absolutely no idea of the individual needs which do exist. Monotonous flat designs may suit a certain group of targeted users but others are given little consideration. Residents and architects alike historically adapted to what developers dictated to them.
Adaptable approaches create ‘individual living contexts’ which are flexible enough to suit specific and changing needs within the frame work of a larger scheme. The new concept of adaptability must not limited to structural flexibility, but also embrace ideas of polyvalence, versatility of space and spatial indeterminacy at different levels in design. Favoring an open and 4-dimensional transformative space encourages the investigation of an evolving system which can adroitly fulfill ever-changing needs.
Traditionally, a residential flat is assembled with predetermined functional “cells”. In the proposed flexible unit, function follows furnishings in that unit at that particular moment. Spatial definition and area vary with time and user need in four dimensions.
In practical terms, the concept is achieved by adopting a functional core inside an environment control shell, or container unit. The interior space can be rearranged and regrouped by sliding panels, folding doors, retractable furniture and plug-in fittings which sustain only temporary functions. This sustains long-term change in the family structure.
The shell is formed by the external façade and the innermost wall. Due to pragmatic needs, these no longer give clues to interior function, as older ideologies requested of designers. This shell is merely another layer of our skin, which protects us from outdoor elements and disturbances. The whole idea was to allow people to easily change and create space at any time, and for various purposes.

Tutor’s Comments
Besides its pragmatic benefits, adaptable housing has ecological potential, especially for saving energy and resources through an extended life span. First, it accommodates various functional demands within a limited space, so it saves energy and materials during construction. Second, it is adaptable to changing requirement caused by changes in lifestyle and the market, and as such lasts longer than “frozen” designs. Third, flexible elements are potentially reusable. The refurbishment, obsolescence, and demolition of adaptable designs require less material, energy and labor, and therefore produce less waste and other costs. This thesis investigates the relationships between high-density conditions, open housing and environmental impacts of housing.
It assumed that land use intensification with high-rise and high density housing construction facilitates conservation of not only ecologically constrained land, but also of energy and resources through improved efficiencies in housing, transportation and other infrastructure. It also recognized that a high density conditions might imply a limited living area, bringing constraints on living demands, including daylighting, ventilation, privacy, individuality, variety of choice and freedom to change. To overcome these potential problems, it tried to bring open housing concept into a full play.
The unit design concept is simple: a service complex in the middle of the room holds most shelvable domestic goods and sliding doors. The remaining space is undivided, open, and scattered with minimal furniture. It remains open during the day providing improved ventilation and lighting, for easy relocation of activities. However, by closing the sliding doors, it provides maximum privacy at night. The spatial configuration readily changes as needed. The functional layout inside the flat largely remains open for change, for adaptation, and for cultivating a creative lifestyle.
The project demonstrates that a high degree of flexibility is achievable within the tight constraints of Hong Kong’s high-rise residential buildings. It proves, that a highly flexible infill system is not only functionally necessary, but also substantially upgrades the quality of interior space, such as natural lighting, ventilation, exterior views and a sense of home.

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