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Hong Kong housing

Shared space a growing option for Hong Kong millennials priced out of the flats market

A co-living project in Kowloon offering stylish rooms and common areas is the latest shared space targeting graduates and young professionals whose hopes of ever buying a flat in the city have been dashed by soaring real estate prices

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 3:21pm

The 13-storey building at the corner of Boundary and Portland streets in Kowloon has been home to cheap hotels, but its latest incarnation reflects the global demand for co-living spaces. When Weave on Boundary opens this summer, its 160 rooms will be marketed to Hong Kong millennials seeking an affordable, stylish place to live.

“It’s about sharing, collaboration and living with like-minded people,” says Weave Co-Living CEO Sachin Doshi. “The moment they step into the property, we want them to feel at home.”

Weave’s goal is to create a living environment that extends beyond the bedroom into a series of common areas. As with the co-working spaces that have become popular with start-ups, freelancers and young entrepreneurs, the idea is to give residents an upscale lifestyle at relatively modest prices by sharing amenities such as a kitchen, screening room, lounge, gym and rooftop terrace.

In the past couple of years, co-living spaces have proliferated in Hong Kong. Like Weave, a few steps from Prince Edward MTR station, many are housed in former hotels, including Wong Chuk Hang’s Mojo Nomad Aberdeen Harbour, run by Ovolo Hotels.

In March, Alvin Leung, an analyst at property agent JLL, said hotel owners can improve their rental yields by up to 12.1 per cent by converting their properties into co-living spaces.

“Co-living is reducing the footprint of a residential unit to the bare bones by shifting things like the kitchen outside the home,” says Rodrigo Buelvas, professor of interior design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Hong Kong, who has studied co-living spaces.

It’s essentially like a hostel, only aimed at residents who stay for longer than a few nights. Weave will have three types of rooms (premium en suites have double beds), from 100 sq ft to 130 sq ft, with monthly rents starting at HK$6,900 (US$880), including internet and utilities.

Hype aside, what’s the mental effect of a young workforce living in cramped co-living conditions?

Doshi says his target market is fresh graduates and twenty-something professionals who can’t buy a flat in a city where it typically takes 25 years’ salary to buy a property. Less than 27 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 surveyed in 2016 by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups intend to get on the property ladder, compared with 55 per cent a decade earlier.

“If you look at cities where a lot of young people want to live, like San Francisco, New York and Hong Kong, they also tend to be cities where residential real estate is very expensive,” says Doshi. “A lot of young people are saying they would rather spend their time, money and resources on having a fun life than on paying for real estate.”

Weave hopes to draw them in with design. Its common rooms will be furnished by rotating collections from Hong Kong brand Ziinlife, while local architects DEFT handled the conversion. DEFT co-founder Peter Lampard says: “We looked at things like cruise ships and houseboats – a lot of nautical things – for ways these spaces can be maximised while still having this sense of home.”

He and his partner Norman Ung also surveyed Hong Kong’s serviced micro-apartment and co-living offerings. “A lot of co-living spaces limit your personal space to your bed,” says Lampard. “Some give you a private bathroom. But in terms of where you work and study they’re pushing it more towards a co-working space.”

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Their assessment is backed by findings by furniture and homewares retailer Ikea’s research arm, Space10, which surveyed 7,000 people around the world about their co-living preferences.

Their responses indicated that, while people had no problem sharing kitchens, workspaces and gardens, they want their own bedrooms and bathrooms. Yet many of the co-living spaces on the market feature dorm-style rooms and shared bathrooms.

Lampard and Ung wanted to avoid that with rooms that were homely and comfortable – so that using the common areas remained a choice.

Co-living is reducing the footprint of a residential unit to the bare bones by shifting things like the kitchen outside the home
Rodrigo Buelvas

“There are private elements that need to be there no matter how small the space,” says Ung. That includes a proper bed – not a pull-out or bunk – along with a desk, a refrigerator and a television. (Most rooms at Weave also have en suite bathrooms.)

They also reconfigured the hotel’s layout so that each bedroom could take advantage of the natural light from the building’s corner location. “When we first visited the site it was a low-end hotel packed with many rooms,” Ung says. “There was one particular room facing a light well. It was very unpleasant, yet the government gave permission for it to be a habitable room.”

That room was converted into a pantry to be shared by the floor’s residents.

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Doshi describes Weave’s spaces as a kind of hierarchy. Private areas are those used most often by each resident, followed by the pantries on each floor. “It’s where you can have cup noodles at night,” he says.

Next are the big-ticket items such as the movie room, rooftop terrace and an all-day dining restaurant. “These are spaces you’ll use a few times a week,” he says.

Residents will have access to a proprietary app they can use to communicate with each other and with the building’s management. They can also use it to learn about yoga meet-ups, cooking and cocktail-making classes, live music and other events.

While people from all backgrounds, interests and nationalities are welcome, says Doshi, security is also important, and Weave has an online application process to foster “the right kind of community”.

“It’s about creating an environment for young people to live in a hassle-free way, where they have a private space when they want to do their own thing, but we also create an atmosphere where they want to interact with one another,” says Doshi.

Pioneers of a new way of life

Bjarke Ingels may be one of the world’s most famous architects, with a practice, BIG, that is at work on a host of global projects, including the revamped Battersea Power Station in London, a twisting Canadian apartment tower called Vancouver House, and a new headquarters for Google in Silicon Valley. But that hasn’t stopped him from taking on yet another job: that of chief architect for WeWork, the parent company of WeLive.

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The Dane’s new position will put him in charge of design for the world’s largest shared office and living space company, which has 171 locations around the world, including a network of co-living spaces around the United States.

“I am very excited to contribute with my insights and ideas to extend their community-oriented vision to ground-up buildings and urban neighbourhoods,” Ingels says.

That statement hints at the ambition of companies such as WeWork, which see themselves not as property managers but as pioneers of an entirely new way of life – some would say a social experiment. Companies including Roam, which offer co-living and co-working spaces that allow clients to hop from city to city around the world, claim to be the harbingers of a new future of untethered work and life.

“It opens a door for digital nomads to live and work wherever they want to travel,” says Buelvas of SCAD.

But the reality may be less romantic. In increasingly expensive cities such as Hong Kong, most co-living residents might simply be looking for an affordable place to live.

It’s about sharing, collaboration and living with like-minded people
Sachin Doshi

“You need to implement rules about minimum limits of what is a liveable area,” says Buelvas, who has studied micro-flats and co-living arrangements. At the moment, Hong Kong has no such regulations.

“You have entire flats now that are going under 18 square metres [193 sq ft]. It’s tiny. You have to start thinking about how that affects human behaviour.”

At a time when developers are unveiling ever smaller living spaces – Wing Kwok Enterprises recently announced plans for 123 sq ft flats in the Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City and Tin Shui Wai districts of Hong Kong – Buelvas says co-living is a more attractive alternative, since it is based around shared facilities and a sense of community usually lacking in apartment blocks.

“It’s about all the little things you do or put in your space that make it feel like home,” he says.

Editor’s note: this story was updated on June 4 to correct the name of SCAD (it is the Savannah College of Art and Design, not Architecture and Design) and of one of its professors, whose name is Rodrigo Buelvas, not Rodrigo Buelvas Romero.