Sep-Oct 2018


by Barton Leung and Kenneth Leung

As home prices continue to escalate in the world’s most expensive property market, fear of the ability to provide a basic shelter over one’s head continues to grow, and the provision of sufficient affordable housing has been one of the major challenges faced by the government of Hong Kong today.

While the soaring demand for affordable public housing continues to outstrip supply, almost 50 per cent of the population are already housed within rental or subsidised-sale public housing. Hong Kong lags behind Singapore’s ability to accommodate over 80 per cent of the population within public housing.

Nonetheless, the sheer number of residents accommodated within Hong Kong’s public housing (around 3.3 million according to the Hong Kong 2016 Population By-census) remains to be noteworthy, and the significance of this public good for the lives of many in the city should be highlighted.

Over the years, the provision and design of public housing have responded to the circumstances faced by the city: addressing the needs within the built environment, reflecting the ever-changing social dynamics, and serving as a means to the economic conditions and reality that burden a large part of the population. In fact, public housing must be included in the dialogue when conceptualising the identity of the city and the way of life of Hong Kongers.


Since the transformation from a fishing village into a trading port in the early days of the city, Hong Kong had faced a continuous influx of immigrants. Between 1945 and 1948, the population had grown from 600,000 to 1.8 million. This had led to a major uptick in the demand for housing, and households were crammed into tenement buildings. As more and more people sought refuge in the city from the Japanese invasion of China and the Chinese Civil War, the major housing demand was exacerbated.

By 1953, the population had ballooned to 2.3 million. Residents of the crowded tenement buildings faced high rents, while those who could not afford to rent had to find shelter in unhygienic makeshift squatter huts constructed on rooftops or hillsides. There were over 300,000 squatter huts by 1953, and they were major fire hazards. They were constructed from wood and thin metal sheets, typically located in close proximity to one another, while residents used primitive stoves and fuel for cooking and lighting.


While focus has been placed on the design and utilitarian value of the blocks and flats of public housing, the importance of communal spaces in public housing estates deserves a mention as well. With the city’s scarce land resources, and as demands for housing continue to rise, achieving a higher development density comes at the expense of public space.

The needs of the larger society are often pitted against the quality of the living environment of existing communities. At the same time, with the majority of current public housing units ranging in size from 30 to 39 square metres
(according to the 2017 figures released by the Transport and Housing Bureau), adequate private space is a rare commodity, particularly those with larger households.


Where providing emergency housing and a basic living environment provision through PRH was the focus of the 1950s to 1960s, the 1970s to 1980s saw the emergence of permanent housing, and the promotion of quality housing and home ownership.

The Ten-year Housing Programme introduced during the period spurred New Town developments in the New Territories that accommodated hundreds of thousands of residents. The programme also helped many residents achieve their dreams of buying a flat through the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) and Private Sector Participation Scheme (PSPS). The Housing Authority developed HOS flats while PSPS flats were tendered to and developed by private developers. Years later, the Tenants Purchase Scheme (TPS) was also introduced at specific PRH estates for families to buy the flats that they have been renting at affordable prices.


Efforts in fabricating public housing for the masses have grown from basic resettlement works to an emphasis on helping people achieve a higher standard of living and providing flexibility to the design of public housing to cater for all walks of life. All things considered, the vision of providing low-cost housing to better the living environment has come into fruition, and public housing has been a key part of the urban fabric that shapes the image and identity of Hong Kong. 


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Previously Published Commentary (Abstracts)

Jan-Feb 2018
The Carbon Question: What Companies Can Do 
 Jon Khoo

Groundbreaking solutions are being invented by forward-thinking architects to show how
coastal cities can become more resilient, viewing climate change as an opportunity to lead the way in waterborne and floodresistant architecture.
Nov-Dec 2017
Are Naturally Ventilated Office Buildings Now 
 Prashant Kapoor

Offices in tropical Asia have changed from offering windows that open to airtight spaces that are fully air-conditioned. Air-conditioning as an engineering technology is, of course, miraculous and amazing. It delivers, with no nonsense or fuss, dry air and constant temperature, which teleports us from the tropics to the Alps in an instant.
Nov-Dec 2017
When Architects Become Mayors by Lakshmi Menon

It could be said that architects have some of the skills that are needed to be successful mayors. Architects and mayors are both, at heart, facilitators, moderators and coordinators of teams with multidisciplinary expertise that work towards the wellness of the whole, with an understanding of parts. The architect brings to this an ability to ‘see’ how things come together spatially.
Nov-Dec 2017
A New Era of Philippine Infrastructure 
 Harry Joseph F. Serrano

Eating healthy and sustainably is starting to shape the hospitality industry worldwide. Aside from catering to our changing diets, new food establishments are also looking at ways they can be designed to reduce waste and their carbon footprint.
Jul-Aug 2017
 Miriel Ko

Eating healthy and sustainably is starting to shape the hospitality industry worldwide. Aside from catering to our changing diets, new food establishments are also looking at ways they can be designed to reduce waste and their carbon footprint.
Mar-Apr 2017
 Namrita Chowdhry

Most industrial establishments in India have embarked on their sustainability journey
only recently. 
The Indian industrial sector comprises companies that have a range of sustainability experience, some for decades, some just recently.
Mar-Apr 2017
 Miriel Ko

The history of industrial architecture can tell you a lot about the evolution of health, environment and human dignity in the workplace. Providing wealth to its owners and millions of jobs to the labouring masses, the development of factories also brought the world mass production, pollution and the rapid growth of makeshift industrial communities.
Jan-Feb 2017
 Dr Nirmal Kishnani
Dr Kishnani examines the challenge of teaching sustainability in the classroom, summarising the pedagogy of the urban studio of the Master of Science, Integrated Sustainable Design programme at the School of Design and Environment, NUS. This is described as a set of aspirations and a framework for a studio assignment.
Sep-Oct 2016
Whether opting to go local, natural or modular, material selection can be less about materialism and more about the planet and the people who inhabit it. 
Jul-Aug 2016
While many aspects of Singapore’s development have been described internationally in glowing terms, the island’s public spaces have often faced a cooler response. 
Mar-Apr 2016
To meet the needs of a rapidly growing urban population, a number of new infrastructure projects will need to be delivered around the world, particularly in developing countries where these trends are at their most extreme. 
Mar-Apr 2016
The need for smarter cities is especially pressing in Asia, which is home to over half of the world’s urban population, and together with Africa, will account for 90 percent of the world’s urban population growth by 2050, according to United Nations’ figures. 
Nov-Dec 2015
 Patrick Lim
The Third International Tatlin’s Tower was designed in 1919 by Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin—a tremendous structure that was meant to serve as a political propaganda hub for the city, state and the world beyond. 

Sep-Oct 2015
Singapore is not often thought of as a competitive market for solar panels. Its thicket of high-rise office and apartment buildings means only a small patch of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels can be set atop each one to generate electricity—that may be a financially inefficient proposition for an individual building owner.

Sep-Oct 2015
by Wolfgang Kessling, Martin Engelhardt and Ina Maia
Buildings today require massive energy inputs. The way we define comfort plays a significant role in this, specifically the design of systems needed to cool indoor spaces. But is this necessary? Is the narrow bandwidth of conditions that air-conditioners deliver the only way to achieve thermal comfort?

May-Jun 2015
by Dominique Hes and Chrisna du Plessis
Whereas Green design aims to reduce environmental impact, and sustainable design aims to achieve intra- and intergenerational equity in access to resources and a healthy, natural environment, the aim of regenerative design is far higher. It aims to transform the way we create the built environment so that it contributes to the well-being, nourishment and regeneration of the world and all its communities.

Mar-Apr 2015
When you think of ecotourism, vivid images are conjured—treetop houses, natural waterfalls, untouched islands using only what nature provides to survive, and wildlife roaming around free where you are being accommodated. While ecotourism has not consistently got to that level yet, it is on its way, and is the fastest growing segment of tourism around the world.


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