Play House, designed by Groundwork, highlights the fact that Hong Kong’s tiny apartments sometimes cover roughly the same area as an en suite bathroom in North America. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Shelter is a basic human need that Hong Kong addresses with varying degrees of success. Here, as indeed elsewhere, the concept of a house took on layers of meaning that go beyond signifying a place of shelter during this past year’s pandemic. In the light of these changes, Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) collaborated with Studio301 to put on a show on the art of contemporary living, called The Dimensions of Living: A House Is. The exhibition featured 13 different interpretations of the idea of a house.
“For the Chinese, having a roof over our head is a traditional aspiration of paramount importance,” notes Lillian Hau, executive director of JCCAC. “But once this fundamental need is met, it naturally begs the next question of what kind of life one might want to lead.”
Curators Howard Chang and Gary Yeung are both Hong Kong architects and professors. Chang teaches at Hong Kong Polytechnic University Community College, while Yeung, a specialist in architectural preservation, is with The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
In both their practices and classrooms, they struggle with reconciling high density living, staggering home prices and the creation of spaces that inspire. For the exhibition, they put aside practical concerns to offer a tabula rasa for what makes a home.
“A house can be pragmatic yet abstract, and collective yet personal,” states Chang. “This exhibition allows us to look at (the idea of a) house as free from trivial issues and constraints in space.”
Howard Chang, co-curator of The Dimensions of Living: A House Is, says the idea was to design freely, without having to mind practical concerns. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
A number of participants came from non-architectural disciplines. For example, artist Au-hoi Lam took an introspective, abstract approach with her two paintings A Hermetic House and Its Auxiliaries (1) and (2). Distilled to simple rectangles, her houses keep their secrets and inspire intimacy by looking inwards.
Architecture Commons’ Rick Lam and Eric Ho visualized a house in the year 2047 in its House as a Commons project, showing how both personal and shared spaces could act as a way of uniting communities driven apart by social isolation.
Groundwork’s Play House was a tongue-in-cheek comment on Hong Kong’s notoriously tiny homes. “It’s a simple comparison of accommodation sizes that people can obtain for HK$7,000 (US$903) per month in different cities around the world,” explains Manfred Yuen, architect and founding partner with Groundwork.
“It is amusing to realize that for HK$7,000, the size of a flat in Hong Kong is the same as a standard en suite bathroom in North America. But there is nothing amusing when we see that these poor living conditions are accepted by the public and absorbed into Hong Kong’s social fabric,” Yuen adds.
“Imagine if you were to live in a tiny flat for 14 days, 24/7 — it will drive you mad eventually,” he says. “Let us not forget about Hong Kong’s grueling summer and how these unventilated spaces may affect people physically and hygienically. It is time that we say no to these unreasonable living conditions openly. Minimum accommodation sizes in Hong Kong must be regulated and the government and lawmakers must act now.”
The exhibition was only a part of JCCAC Festival 2020, Live Living. The festival also featured a handicraft fair, rooftop cinema screening French documentary Faces Places, black box theater programs, workshops and artist talks, all exploring contemporary living.
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