Sunday, 30 April 2017

Trying to Make Homes Better

People living in subdivided flats try to hoard as much furniture as they can
Many pictures of subdivided flats in Hong Kong show extremely cramped conditions with the room covered in stuff.

"Many grassroots families don't have the extra cash to spend on furniture. Instead they'll hoard a lot of second-hand furniture even if it's not very practical because they don't know if they'll be able to afford it in the future," says social worker Angela Lui Yi-shan.

Having to constantly worry about having enough money for basic necessities is a stressful situation to be in.

A picture before of a mother and child with a temporary desk
And not having proper spaces for children to study and play in such tiny living spaces doesn't help either.

As a result, Lui has teamed up with human rights advocacy group Society for Community Organization that helps design and build custom-made furniture for low-income families so they can have a better living environment.

Furniture can range from desks, shelves, and cupboards, and they can be easily moved out of the flat when the family moves to another place.

A team of architects from DOMAT, a not-for-profit architecture firm that designs the furniture, work with the families individually by visiting their subdivided flats see what existing furniture they want to keep and what their needs are.

"Most of the children we work with lie on the ground or bed to do their homework, and it's not good for their health or development, but this project can help change that," says Lui.

Many impoverished families live in old tenement buildings that have high ceilings, so the aim is to build floor-to-ceiling cupboards instead of stacking storage boxes, while children can have a proper desk and be able to store toys underneath.

Afterwards there is a dedicated desk and more space to move
"Based on their daily habits, we see how our designs can match their needs. We want to use furniture as a tool to improve their space, rather than just providing new furniture," says architect Maggie Ma.

She adds this project has helped her to understand more about how people live and what is most important to them.

Ma's partner and fellow architect Mark Kingsley says these makeovers are not like the ones on TV shows where a home is completely transformed. "The ambition of the project is much more modest -- to make small changes that can have a big impact on the family."

We need more architecture and design firms doing projects like this to help others make their lives better. And as Ma says, it helps her understand what people want and need in their homes, particularly those who are struggling everyday.

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