As China designs a roadmap to bring 100 million rural citizens into cities over the next five years, it and other booming east Asian countries will confront a problem that's been around since the 1980s: The massive housing shortage and the illegal dwellings that result. Two architects think they've found a temporary solution in bamboo.
This month marks 21 years since the demolition of Hong Kong's Kowloon City, the infamous "walled city" where 33,000 people crammed into a seven-acre layer cake of apartments and businesses built by their owners and unregulated by the city. Kowloon was legendary—but it was spurred by a low-income housing shortage that still exists today, though in far less visible form.
Kowloon Walled City, courtesy of Greg Girard
As part of the Hong Kong/Shenzhen Biennale last year, two young architects who go by AFFECT-T demonstrated how a temporary micro-home could be easily built out of bamboo, which is cheap and easy to grow. More importantly, these fast, light, and cheap shelters are designed to be built inside of the abandoned and deserted industrial buildings that are often co-opted by the homeless. Inside each two-story shelter, there's a living area, a small kitchenette, a bathroom, a fold-down table, and places to eat and sleep.
The architects envision the modular system being distributed by one of many non-profits across cities, giving recent immigrants a place to get on their feet without pushing them into distant peripheral shelters or dangerous housing.
It's "a temporary solution to house individuals, couple, and families as the seek permanent forms of housing," they explain. "Using local materials a modular system was developed which can meet the needs of the many without housing while costing little to construct in time and money."
To demonstrate the idea, they picked out a perfect example of the abandoned buildings they're talking about: Hong Kong's Kwun Tong Ferry Pier, an abandoned ferry port that's close to the city but largely unoccupied.
There are plenty of unanswered questions about the concept, from who would pay for it to what would happen when a particular colony becomes overcrowded. But as far as answering one question—whether architects can still contribute something to the debate over the housing shortage—the idea holds water. By dropping these shelters by the dozen into ageing buildings, AFFECT-T would give the homeless some semblance of privacy and avoid, on some level, building a walled city for the 2010s.