Arch. Gary Chang, born in 1962 in Hong Kong, has lived in his seventh-floor apartment since he was 14, when he moved in with his parents and three younger sisters; they rented it from a woman who owned so much property that she often forgot to collect payment. Like most of the 370 units in the 17-story building, which dates to the 1960s, the small space was partitioned into several tiny rooms — in this case, three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a hallway. Mr. Chang’s parents shared the master bedroom (though when they first moved in, his father lived in the United States, where he worked as a waiter at Chinese restaurants in various cities). His sisters shared a second bedroom, and the third, almost incredibly — although not unusually for Hong Kong — was occupied by a tenant, a woman in her 20s, whom Mr. Chang remembers only for the space she took up. Mr. Chang slept in the hallway, on a sofa bed. These days, he uses a hydraulic Murphy bed of his own design, hidden behind a sofa during the day. “That old routine of folding out the bed is similar in spirit to what I do today,” he said. “But the reasons are different. Then, it was just necessary. Now, it’s all about transformation, flexibility and maximizing space.” Chang‘s experiment in flexible living began in 1988, when his family moved into a bigger apartment a few blocks away, with his grandparents and uncles. Mr. Chang was then working for the P&T Group, an architectural firm, and living in a rented room near the University of Hong Kong, where he had studied architecture. His mother suggested that he take over the lease on their old apartment, “because the rent was unusually low,” he said. Instead he bought it, for about $45,000. He had been itching to tear down the walls since his teenage years, when he sketched new designs for the family home, and he then began in earnest. In the last two decades, he has renovated four times, on progressively bigger budgets as his company, Edge Design Institute, has grown, and his apartment has become a testing ground for him to experiment with ways of making reconfigurable spaces. His latest effort, which took a year and cost just over $218,000, he calls the “Domestic Transformer.”
Ultimate spatial flexibility is created through the multiple operations of the partitions, lighting, and mobile furniture. All the mundane necessities of bachelor life – books. CDs. clothing, pictures. stereo, videos are stacked on a chrome factory shelving system and hidden discreetly behind floating white curtains. The central space becomes the actual space for living, working, eating, sleeping, chatting, dressing and reading. Blue fluorescent tubes are carefully placed to wash the floor with an unearthly glow, while bright up-lighting articulates structural members. The main aperture of the front window offers views to the world beyond whether the actual view out of the window, or through the large scale movie screen to the fantasy world of hollywood, the real world of news, or the electronic world of internet.
Mr. Chang hopes that some of his home’s innovations might be replicated to help improve domestic life in Hong Kong, which has been troubled in recent years. The population grew by nearly a half-million in just the last 10 years, and between 2003 and 2007, reports of new cases of child, spousal and elder abuse nearly doubled, something social workers attribute in part to new social pressures caused by the city’s ongoing shortage of space. “It’s a big problem,” Mr. Chang said. “Killing each other is not uncommon.” “People feel trapped,” he said. “We have to find ways to live together in very small spaces.” Chang is determined to see his ideas put to use in new multi-unit buildings. He has invited a number of developers to visit, and has meticulously documented his apartment’s history in a book, “My 32m2 Apartment: A 30-Year Transformation” (MCCM Creations, 2008).