Cramped Apartments in Hong Kong Shot From Directly Above


In the middle of last year, The Economist released rankings for the world’s most livable cities, and Hong Kong was found at the top. What many people don’t know, however, is that there is a percentage of Hong Kong residents living in rather horrid conditions.

In an attempt to draw attention to the issue, human rights organization Society for Community Organization recently commissioned a series of photographs showing what a number of unacceptable living spaces look like when viewed from directly overhead. (Here’s a larger version of the photo above.)

According to the SoCO, over 100,000 people live in tiny “cubicle apartments” in the city. These are 40-square-foot living spaces created by dividing already-small apartments into multiple units.

Residents go about their lives in these confined spaces, sleeping on one corner, eating in another, storing their belongings in a third, and perhaps watching a TV that’s found in a fourth.

SoCO’s wide-angle photographs capture how cramped these spaces really are by showing everything within them in a single frame. The images were likely captured by simply fixing a camera with a wide-angle lens to the ceiling, and then triggering a shot remotely (the photographer cannot be seen in the image).

In each photo is a QR code that directs viewers to a petition to the Hong Kong government. Click each of these photos to see a higher-resolution version:





We featured a couple of similar projects last year. One was Menno Aden’s photos of various spaces as seen from above, and another was photographer Michael H. Rohde’s images of rooms as seen from below.

(via Ads of the World via Lense)

Image credits: Photographs by Society for Community Organization/Publicis Hong Kong

  • Bruce Miller

    Americans living beyond sustainability in the worlds deepest debtor nation in the history of all mankind?

  • RobertinSeattle

    I can honestly say from firsthand experience that the violence and crime is incredibly low especially when compared to other countries, especially compared to our inner cities here in America. Your argument about the tight quarters automatically being a reason for high violence and crime is unfounded as proven by the environment we see here in Hong Kong.

    And why is that? Because there are many more factors involved not the least of which are the cultural and social aspects. Keep in mind that this society still believes in shame and rejection: If you do harm to someone else, the shame heaped upon you and your family will likely ensure that you’re thrown off the island (or at least out of your little space!). Not only that, the old axiom of “If you can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime!” absolutely holds true here. On one of my business trips over there, I expressed some fear to my younger brother who lived over there that the neighborhood we were walking through just didn’t look safe. He simply told me that one of the main reasons crime was so low in Hong Kong was that justice was swift and appropriate so most of the citizens were dissuaded from crime against others.

    Remember when some of those factories put melamine into the milk supply and baby formula? Remember how quickly those owners and managers got arrested and put on trial? And remember what happened as soon as they were convicted? A bullet through the forehead sent a clear message to anyone else who would ever consider trying that again. And the shaming part of it? They sent the bill for the bullet to their families to pay the state back for the expense. Now THAT’S justice. You don’t see that happening here in America.

    It may be less subservience and more respect that keeps everyone in line. And perhaps a small amount of gratitude for what they have instead of feeling entitled to any free benefits that we’ve come to absolutely expect here in our own country. Instead of appreciating what we do have, too many seem to resent what they have and expect to be given what they don’t have. In many of these families living in tight quarters, they’ve come from even more impoverished environments than you can possibly imagine. If you look very closely at most of these packed quarters, you will notice cordless phones, cell phones, microwaves, televisions and computers. If they were really poor, none of those luxuries would be present. Making assumptions based on our own society and expectations is misguided.

  • NzHippyChic

    I have read everyone’s varied comments and arguments, I believe the most appropriate thing to do would be to try it – why not have some Westerner try to live like this – some TV station could come up with it as a new form of Big Brother hahaha.
    I would personally love to live like this – because you have your basic needs met and that’s it. We don’t need all the multiple amounts of furniture and 4 TVs in one family home. These families must have great family values/structures and get along like a real family unit – unlike most western families that all live seperate lives in seperate rooms. I am wondering about the availability of bathrooms, and if there are so many people living in each room there must be a GIGANTIC spreadsheet for the times allocated.

  • Hoolai Street

    What they don’t show is what amenities are nearby. Also they don’t mention the motivation behind it. They could have comfortable savings for their children’s education and the parent’s retirement. So many people focus on crime, however in such small spaces, you learn to be more tolerant and compromise because you can’t just have a fight with your wife and sleep in the spare room.

  • A resident in UK, from HK

    Show these pictures to those do gooders pretending to speak for the poor and families that complain poor housing and living conditions.
    People in Hong Kong make do what they have and what they can afford, and get on with life. Everyone strife to improve their living standards under their own steam. The Hong Kong government can only do so much with limited land for more than 8m residents.
    Those families in the above photos are considered fortunate. Millions more in the third world countries do not even have a roof above thier heads.

  • Scott

    Exactly. If you ever find yourself spending too much time at home, downsize to one of these. You will find yourself outside all the time.

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  • Vicky Dugar

    I live in Hong Kong right now. Travel to places where people live in palatial settings compared to how we live in. Having said that, the majority (i.e. over 90%) do not live in the setting that you’re seeing in these pictures. Here are a few facts that these pictures exaggerate.

    1. The photos you are seeing are outliers – yes, they are not lies, but they are far from common occurrence. Soho is a business district, and on top of that, party central in HK. Naturally, prices there for a house or an apartment are exorbitant because it is better rented out to a business that can rake in more cash. Hence, the price you pay: very small spaces.

    2. If you are willing to commute say 30-40 minutes by local transport daily to/from work, you can get extremely comfortable living spaces. Read: Not to be confused with landed bungalows, but considering the density of HK, they are still very comfortable homes indeed.

    3. Hong Kong, even though small, is HIGHLY efficient in their architecture. There’s a video of a HK architect showing the very extreme case of getting more than 12 or 16 functional rooms out of a 102 or 120 sq. feet of space. Again, while extreme, builders here can create functionally livable and comfortable space in small floor areas. As an example: my own house has 2 rooms with 3-door closets, twin/queen sized beds, 1 bathroom, a living room, a store room, and a kitchen – all in less than 625 sq. feet of floor space.

    4. People spend most of their time outside in HK. From breakfast to dinner, practically every meal is eaten outside. Weekends are spent away. Many homes in HK don’t have a washing machine – laundry is commonly outsourced, and they keep in their own homes, very little closet space.

    In all, I’d like to say that HK (not my home town, but home right now) is a fast paced, yet safe place to live in. You know what creates psychological disorders leading to crime? Unhappiness. Trust me, the size of our apartments has very little impact on our happiness – at least on our side of the world.

    Please I urge people to get a realistic grip and stop over-complicating their own lives. I hear western civilizations are now giving psychiatric drugs to kids… I mean really? A little time spent, and a big smile given – solves many problems than we care to accept.

  • Chuck

    in one of the photo, entire house is smaller than my room, and my room is considered pretty small, about 20 meter squared

  • Improve living conditions

    A large majority of people living in Mumbai don’t even have a tiny apartment.

  • baxterross

    Its their right to live where they want. No one is forcing them to live in HK.

  • karoladesrosiers

    If you think Richard`s story is neat…, one week ago my boy frends sister also actually earnt $8870 workin a thirteen hour week from there house and there best friend’s aunt`s neighbour has been doing this for 10-months and got paid over $8870 part time on their mac. the information from this website, — Buzz80.ℂOℳ

  • Reason3

    Yes, here’s a gold star for having 2 pieces of furniture, and shame on North America for all of its 400M inhabitants being too fat to fit in a doorway.
    Anything other thoughtful conclusions you’d care to share?

    I’m a fit city-dweller living in a pretty small place, by the way, so any ‘you must be a fat suburban cow’ comments can be spouted at the next unsuspecting person.

  • Andy

    So that makes it alright then!

  • TedRysz3

    I don’t know if it makes it alright, I just don’t think there is a such a bad taste about it.

  • Simon Hodson

    I think they should knock through!!!!!

  • LTK

    What’s the big deal? Compared to the west, this seems small. But why compare to the west? How about comparing to Japan or Africa? I lived in worst than this in Hong Kong and later in New York. Let’s not be babies or treat people like babies.

  • gsgsg

    How is this photographd? can someone please give a tutorial

  • Sol Setra

    Hong Kong has lots of outdoor parks and community spaces which are free for the public to use, which helps take the pressure from cramped living accommodation and also increases community engagement. when i lived there i shared a student room about this size with one other person. I never felt suffocated because i could always go and sit in the huge beautiful park one minutes walk from our apartment block.

  • Erika Leung

    Inhumane……………Living space is a pure luxury in HK……….if you don’t have money you don’t have personal space.

  • Laura

    Sorry guys is not only location this case is Hong Kong Hong Kong. Is not because they have chosen downtown..This is Hong Kong, welcome. The price per square meter is extremely high due to the lack of space to build new apartments and the amount of people who lives there.

  • theresa

    Exactly. Some people have made it work unlike here in the United States where most people feel they need to live in excess just to feel satisfied with their lives. This is HK after all, and have people forgotten? There is a huge gap between the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor. If you are poor in China, there is just so much you can do to make do. Consider the social, economic, and possibly even the political conditions of Hong Kong, they are under their own separate form of government and so of course, there would be people who live in these kinds of cramped situations because they can’t mobilize themselves out of those kinds of places, not if they can’t get better paying jobs, not if they don’t have more money amongst those in poverty circulating, and little form of financial assistance from the government.

  • Tan Bee Keong

    i am a singaporean. i get claustrophobic just by looking at the photos. its terrible. no one, especially in an advanced city like hong kong, should live that way!! hong kong should build more housing flats like what we have in singapore. its everywhere. expensive but at least liveable.

  • Charlie Coombs

    Joe, while I generally agree with your point, my guess is that an area that allows it’s average citizen to live the way these people do isn’t very big on law enforcement. I wouldn’t trust a crime statistic coming out of China/Hong Kong anymore than I’d trust a hungry bear not to maul me.

  • Charlie Coombs

    True, this is a different way of living but so is homelessness. I don’t think this is a cultural choice. This is a result of massive exploitation of low wage workers and poverty. These are the largest “apartments” these people can afford. Some of them literally rent stacked cages.

  • Charlie Coombs

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that there is something wrong with these people, anymore than someone would suggest that there is something wrong with chickens who spend their lives in cramped coops. What’s wrong is that people have to live in these conditions due to economic exploitation and an unresponsive and corrupt governmental system.

  • Charlie Coombs

    I would just point out that whole families are living in these places, and they’re living there forever not just while they’re college students–as if any of them will ever be able to afford/be afforded that luxury. If I had to live in my college door room with 4-5 family members there would be a problem. What happens when people are ill? When it’s Winter? These conditions are appalling. To think that some slum lord collects rent off these places…