What Hong Kong Can Teach New Yorkers About Cramped Urban Living

A designer shares his lessons on solving high rent and tight space with a little modern feng shui.

Hong Kong is one of the most land-hungry cities in the world. This results in sky-rocketing housing prices and a constant need for new ideas in urban development and sustainability. One Hong Kong architect, Gary Chang, took these challenges and ran with them. Today, Chang is known for his biggest experiment -- the "Domestic Transformer." Chang transformed the 360-square-foot apartment his family has owned since he was a child into a futuristic shape-shifting space that uses a complex system of sliding walls to create a 24-room living experience. (See video above.)

You say you studied "architecture long before you enrolled in architecture." Can you recall a distinct moment in your youth where you saw yourself coping with the tight living space and coming up with a solution?

I have resided in this apartment for more than 30 years. At the very beginning, this 360-square-foot apartment was home to my parents, my three younger sisters and me -- plus a room rented out to an outsider.

Instead of defining it as a solution, I would say it was a way of life that everyone always kept conversations to a minimum noise level. One could easily figure out how disturbing it was if everyone spoke loudly in such a tight space.

You have defined the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" by transforming a 360-square-foot apartment into a 24-room configuration. Are you currently adding any more configurations? If so, would you be able to share what you're currently designing or adding on?

I have spent one whole year to design and complete this transformation, striving to consider all "walks of life" within this individual domestic universe. So the four years that have elapsed since the completion of the project was mainly to get accustomed to and adapt to the space. The major object that I have added afterwards was a mobile column equipped a series of light fixtures that could move to anywhere I need in the space. Sometimes this light column behaves like my "pet."

In every architectural feat, you have made your apartment more eco-friendly. It's also known that in the East, the practice of feng shui is popular. Do you incorporate any feng shui principles into your designs? If so, do you try to merge energy-saving solutions with feng shui principles?

Personally I did not formally acquire the knowledge of feng shui, though one would say quite a few of the basic principles were grasped through in-born means, as being a local Hong Kong Chinese.

On the other hand, the element of sustainable design of the apartment is simply the small footprint of the space, a mere 360 square-feet which through "REDUCE" I have avoided and saved a significantly amount of energy needed to live here.

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Aarti Chawla writes for Asia Blog, an Asia Society publication.

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