High-rise gets us down

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 June, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 June, 1994, 12:00am

MAYBE the Hong Kong land developers won't listen to Solvig Ekblad. But her work touches most people who live in vertical cities.

The professor of psychology from Sweden studied how living styles affect the individual's sense of well-being.

Her research in Beijing focused on three types of living space: a high-rise flat, a mid-rise flat, a traditional low-rise dwelling with communal courtyard (called hutongs in Beijing). She studied three generations of 123 families.

In her talk , entitled ''Chinese Ecological Psychology'', she defined ecology ''as the inter-relationship between the individual and the environment''.

Or how people cope with crowds, the time crunch and getting along with life in a group-oriented society.

She worked with designers and architects because ''high density living concerns everyone who deals with problems in actual living space''.

''As the society modernises, professionals must ask, what are people's wishes?'' In less-developed cultures, dwellings are more crowded. Though courtyard-style living appears to have more open space, it is still crowded.

While a high-rise offers modern convenience and amenities, such as separate rooms for sleeping, cooking and eating, such independence also minimises social contact. In a courtyard dwelling, residents make contact with others through using the facilities for doing laundry or cooking.

Though high rises are better equipped for functions such as cooking and separate quarters for sleeping, stress levels exist, regardless of living space. But people with courtyards in general were more satisfied with life and social relationships.

When habits were studied, alcohol consumption increased among adult residents of high-rises. Due to the attraction of television, there was less socialisation. Children had more health problems due to the lack of sunshine and being outdoors. In a more communal environment, they were never at a loss for playmates or entertainment.

Elderly feel more isolated and less independent in high-rises, especially those with reduced physical mobility. To go downstairs from a flat on the 21st floor was often viewed as a chore or too challenging.

The pace of change occurring in Beijing concerns Dr Ekblad. As land developers force families to change their living style from a low rise dwelling to a high-rise, she worries whether anyone thinks about how an upheaval affects the mental and emotional well-being of people.