At Home with Density

At Home with Density

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    At Home with Density
    Book Description:

    Hong Kong has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and is one of the most prosperous societies , but much of the population lives in low quality, high-density housing. Through qualitative interviews with long-term residents of public housing, this book explores residents' experience of high-density space. It traces the development of Hong Kong housing forms and analyses how people's expectations of domestic space have been affected by social mobility and shifting cultural values of space, lifestyle, and design. The accompanying award-winning documentary film, A Thousand Pieces of Gold, will enable readers to experience these spaces and listen to revealing interviews with the tenants.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-031-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    Most past research on Hong Kong has been generally aimed to inform a diverse audience about the place and its people. Beginning in the 1950s, the aim of scholars and journalists who came to Hong Kong was to study China, which had not yet opened its doors to fieldwork by outsiders. Accordingly, the relevance of Hong Kong was limited to its status as a society adjacent to mainland China. After the opening of China, research on Hong Kong shifted focus towards colonial legitimacy and the return of sovereignty. Thus, the disciplined study of Hong Kong was hindered for almost half...

    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Nuala Rooney
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Just about every travel writer who has ever visited Hong Kong writes about the frenetic energy, buzz, unremitting pace and sheer density of city life. In Hong Kong, urban planning is ingrained in the verticality of the society and in the way of life. Density is experienced every day: in crowded street markets, looking across to rooms in other buildings, looking down at rooftops, inside windowless offices, in lifts, and elevated walkways. Here, virtually any space is viewed as usable space, no matter how crowded or how ugly, or how small. This is a city where a publicly designated ‘Recreational...

    (pp. 11-48)

    What little knowledge there is about the interior of the Hong Kong home tends to be lost by the dominant focus of home as housing. Typically, Hong Kong low-income families may not have considered they would have had very much in their homes to document, certainly nothing that was any different from anyone else. But, like any lived in space experienced by different generations under changing social situations, the high-density home has been shaped over the years. If we are to look at the way people conceive of their Hong Kong Housing Authority home today, it is useful to look...

    (pp. 49-68)

    Since the 1960s Hong Kong has undergone rapid social mobility. A booming economy ensured there was steady work, which in turn provided the general population with a reliable income. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the values and experiences of this generation, as a product of an advanced industrialized society, have clearly been shaped by social, political and environmental circumstances different from those of the previous generation. In one survey carried out in 1986, the respondents were less inclined to see themselves in the same social stratum as their parents.² Indeed, nearly 70% of respondents considered themselves to be middle...

    (pp. 69-82)

    Any attempt to narrate the Hong Kong domestic space presents the author with various problems. Who is narrating? Only household members would have inside knowledge and experience of their own home. But, there is also the obvious difference between how I, as a cultural outsider, might define Hong Kong space, inhabited by Hong Kong people compared with what cultural insiders see as a taken for granted space inhabited by ordinary people much like themselves.¹ It is, however, a broad range of people who might see themselves as being ordinary. They may share the same habitus but their construction of it...

    (pp. 83-116)

    At that time, when we first came here, we didn't have as much stuff . . . it was spacious. Of course it was good. We had no place to live, where could we find a flat like this to live? In the past, we only had a small part of what we have now and had to share with several other families. We slept on the floor, we had to. If they allocated a flat to you, you were very lucky.

    For this grandmother the offer of an HKHA flat represented more than just a space to live; it...

  11. 5 ‘We Are Chinese’
    (pp. 117-132)

    As a cultural outsider it is impossible for me to ignore the presence of Chinese elements within the Hong Kong home. There is nothing in any of the HKHA reports to suggest that these homes were designed to fit with specific, deep rooted, traditional practices of the inhabitants. This, however, is not always how residents see it. One grandmother in her late sixties, firmly believed that the HKHA had designed her flat to accommodate the ‘honourable place’ for the Tu-ti (土地),¹ which, from her experience would have been built into the traditional dwellings.

    The Tu-ti must be placed in front...

    (pp. 133-144)

    There’s one difference between day and night. It’s the only one. We have to eat after we come back from work and we have to use this table. When it is placed in the centre, I feel there’s no space left. We cannot put the table beside the bed when we are eating because it’s not hygienic . . . so we have to pull it into the centre to make it feel better, psychologically. . . . When there’s just my mother and me at home, we pull the table over to the centre. After she finishes eating ....

    (pp. 145-166)

    It is often said that Hong Kong people are great collectors and that they never throw things out. There is certainly some truth in this. Density in many households is often made worse by residents’ predisposition to fill up the space with what some families referred to jokingly as ‘junk’. The obvious solution to the problem would be for residents to reduce the amount of possessions in the home and curtail their consumption. But is consumption perceived by residents to be a problem of high-density living, or a way of life?

    Well, . . . this place is crammed with...

    (pp. 167-192)

    Artistic consumption, according to Bourdieu, demands a ‘pure, pointless expenditure’ of the most precious commodity of all: time. If the pursuit of distinction relies heavily on time invested in its cultivation, this might be one explanation why these residents seemed to show little interest in displaying art in their homes.¹ Most Hong Kong families work long hours so that their time at home, and their free time outside the home is limited. While the ideological Chinese cultural model places great value on art and the quality creating of settings.² many Hong Kong people have had little direct contact with fine...

    (pp. 193-200)

    I doubt if any of these families have ever taken as many photographs of their home in one day, in such detail, as I did in 1992. Just as I am sure they have never consciously spent so much time scrutinizing the layout of their homes or reflecting on the significance of clutter, art and housework in their lives, or in relation to interior design. It is very likely that these homes (those that still exist) have changed since these photographs were taken. It is perhaps even more likely that these same residents would today give different responses to the...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 201-224)
    (pp. 225-240)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 241-248)