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Architecture and Design

Six ways to solve Hong Kong housing problem – from water pipes to plastic bottles

With plans in place to turn shipping containers into public housing in Kowloon, we’ve found six other intriguing building alternatives that could be implemented to help ease the city’s growing affordability crisis

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 April, 2018, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 April, 2018, 8:03pm

It was announced this week that stackable units converted from shipping containers are to be erected in Hong Kong for the first time to create cheap alternative housing.

This new form of housing will be used in Sham Shui Po, a largely residential district that is the poorest in Hong Kong, to help provide homes for needy families. The container homes will serve as temporary housing for some 100 families for up to two years. Three blocks of the prefabricated modular housing units will be built on the site.

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Using shipping containers for cheap housing is innovative, but they are not the only option for providing transitional social housing. Here are six other examples of alternative housing that could be introduced in Hong Kong.

Earth berms

The Hong Kong government has toyed with the idea of turning some parts of the city’s lush country parks into housing estates to the outrage of conservationists, but earth berms could be the perfect compromise. An earth berm or earth house is an architectural style that uses natural terrain to help form the walls of a home. It is usually set partially in the ground and covered with thin growth. You may feel like you’re living like a hobbit, but the building’s low cost, good insulation and protection from the weather will soon win you over.

Recycled bottles

If it’s one thing that Hong Kong has no shortage of, it is plastic bottles – one look in Victoria Harbour after a typhoon and you won’t be hard pressed spotting a handful. The green revolution in recent years has spread into the building industry, where plastic is now used in several building structures. The recycled bottle structure that replaces bricks is an eco-friendly and unique type of home. And of course, the materials are very cheap or even free.

Water pipes

Hong Kong has already tried renovating water pipes into homes. The OPod is a 100 sq ft (9.3 sq m) experimental, low-cost home made from two repurposed concrete water pipes, and is the brainchild of Hong Kong architect James Law.

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Equipped with a small bathroom, tiny kitchen, shelving and a couch that converts into a bed, the micro flat is an example of how the city could tackle its lack of sufficient affordable housing.

Pallet houses

You’d need to stop smoking or at the very least have a fire extinguisher on hand if you decided to call this next option home. Wooden pallets are cheap or free in most places, so it’s no wonder they have become popular materials when it comes to alternative buildings. They were used as a transitional shelter for refugees returning to Kosovo after the Balkan war. These people needed immediate alternative tents that could potentially transform into a new permanent home over time. The homes would certainly work for a temporary dwelling at least.

Straw bales

Structures made from straw bales can be surprisingly affordable, and a lot more comfortable than you might think. Across the world eco-friendly houses are also using straw bales as a cheap source of insulation. A wide variety of structures can be created with the help of straw, everything from a small storage unit to a large family home.

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Silo homes

In the US, silos normally used to store grain and fermented feed are now being turned into housing, with their circular shape viewed as a good structural element. Round houses have been a successful design option for thousands of years as wind passes around the building and finds no resistance. It also means that silo houses have less surface area on the exterior, making for a home that is easier to heat and cool.