The world is home to upwards of seven billion people, and at times it seems like Mong Kok has more than its fair share.
Indeed, with an estimated 130,000 residents per square kilometre, Mong Kok was once rated by Guinness World Records as the most densely populated place on the planet. Yet here, on one of the busiest streets, on the tiniest footprint of land, Hong Kong-based global architecture firm Aedas is creating a residential building so innovative it has caught the eye of judges in an international design competition.
Last week in Cannes, France, Mongkok Residence, at 78-88 Sai Yee Street, received a high commendation at the 2014 MIPIM Architectural Review Future Project Awards.
Now in its 13th year, the competition, which the organisers claim is the only one held exclusively for unbuilt or incomplete projects, has a strong focus on creativity. Paul Finch, editorial director of The Architectural Review and The Architects' Journal, chaired the judging panel.
Aedas describes the Mong Kok site, which is being developed for the Bank of East Asia, as "challengingly small". Measuring only 614 square metres, it has just one street frontage. The firm has reinterpreted traditional Hong Kong architecture in a 23-storey tower housing 138 studio units, incorporating gardens and greenery.
The Aedas team took inspiration from Mong Kok's early days. During the post-war boom when refugees flooded into Hong Kong, Kowloon's population swelled.
"In those days, it was common to add on iron balconies to high-rise apartments, affording residents views, outside space and a place to grow a small garden," says project designer and executive director of Aedas, Cary Lau King-hong.
Those structures, although illegal, were integral to the new building's design.
Though the units, when finished in 2015, won't actually have balconies, the irregular protrusions of the facade achieve the primary goal of allowing unobstructed views from each apartment. Metalwork and natural materials such as timber have been incorporated as reminders of the area's traditional cityscape.
Greenery is represented in various ways, including outdoor planting, a sky garden on the third floor and a 450 square metre "green wall" on the street-front facade.
While honouring the past, Mongkok Residence is a building that also looks to the future and is intended to be an antidote to the bustling congestion around it.
"We wanted to create a transitional experience, from the busy street outside to the calming feeling of home," Lau says. "So when you walk inside, there's just a small lobby surrounded by greenery."
The main lobby and gym are on the third floor, which could be a check-in area should the building be used for serviced apartments.
The small size of the units - 269 sq ft - calls for a clever internal layout, especially considering that staircases and lifts account for 40 to 50 per cent of the floor plate.
Those details are still being considered, but the use of sliding partitions may be one option.
The building also has a range of environmental features, including insulated glazing and low-emitting materials.
The Aedas design team set out to respect Mong Kok's traditional culture and make use of the local context. Lau believes, from a contemporary viewpoint, that this is the essence of good design. "We were lucky that the client gave us the chance to reflect the local culture, in a way which achieves a truly interesting building."