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

  • Doug McCaughan

    Had to double check and make sure these weren’t screenshots from Bladerunner or 5th Element.

    Think about the large amount of square foot lost when they drilled a hole to film the neighbor below!

  • damian gadall

    his apartment is aboot 8 times bigger than the other ones…

  • Zip Alegria

    Can’t you just google it?

  • Zip Alegria


  • Syd

    Are you saying that psychologically they’re suffering based on any sort of study, personal experience with Hong Kong populace or immigrants? I’m not saying that Hong Kong’s confined conditions are in anyway shape or form ideal, But I do think that many cultures are used to being in smaller spaces than others. For example, I can imagine someone from Wyoming be very uncomfortable in New York, San Francisco, or Hawaii. But on the other hand, I can imagine someone from those confined cities to be extremely uncomfortable if they move to the open Midwest, or a big house.

  • Jay

    “folks live in what many in India, Sub-saharan Africa, other parts of
    China and South America would consider the epitome of luxury” WOW !!! Gr8 observation. As a person of Indian origin, let me make it clear – Most of us don’t consider that space a “luxury”. Period.

  • Anthony J. Mitchell

    My bathroom is two times larger than all of these so called apartments.

  • EjectDiskNow

    The third one looks like my old college dorm room… only cleaner…

  • tyrohne

    Do regale me with your tales of the slums you live in without running water or infrastructure and how you take what you have over the promise of wealth in Hong Kong.

    (PS: I’m just kidding. You don’t have to use up the precious minutes of your Airtel cell account to convince me of anything.)

  • Oscar

    As a Hong Kong citizen, I do think i have the right to say that, these people got ripped off from the rich. Imagine that, these people might looks like that have all their physical needs, but I can ensure you that, some of them might not. Have you ever wonder, how much are they paying for this tiny flat? 5/6000 HKD, in other words, using the HK minimum wage of 28/hr, 6 hours of work for 30 days, is just enough for them to rent such a flat. Then the “lovely” HK government outsource some Giant to take control of its public housing, which small, independent shop are being closed down, people have to pay 3x HKD for a bowl of noodles. Yes, if they have a proper job, it might just enough for them to stay alive (not really healthily, i think you can imagine how bad can the hygiene of such a place be). I am quite certain that they are not living happily. I don’t think I need to give you any reference of research to back up my point, as a Hong Kong citizen, I just know. (of course you can just search on goggle, Hong Kong university done a lots of research regarding house hold issue in HK). More importantly, even if you are able to save up some money, you can hardly buy a flat of your own, when the minimum cost of a flat is almost like 1.8M, this is due to the hot money coming from China. The Mainlanders even organize a tour to HK just to shop properties, yes, a group of 30 pax, come to HK, buying couple of our properties for investment and other purpose.

    Of course the third world is worse comparing to HK. But, as A Hong Kong citizen, it is also one of the major issue for us.

  • LockeM

    Interestingly, Hong Kong is something like the second safest country in the world, and third in least amount of crime.

  • Oscar

    Oh and btw, on the top right corner of each photo. Are the New report quoting the research.

  • Ash Menon

    Thank you. Finally, someone has the sense to point this out.

  • Paul E. Mann

    I complained of no shoes…
    then I met a girl with no feet…

  • Lee Grimm

    I live in an r.v. that’s about the same size, maybe a tiny bit bigger. if you keep it picked up and clean it’s not that bad. it only takes 15 minutes to clean the whole place!

  • rabbix

    the fact these people have smart phones, brand name clothing, etc is very interesting – actually points to the problem here being a severe shortage of housing for working people – costs that probably skyrocket compared to fixed costs of other goods we consider representative of middle income lifestyle. Access to housing for these people is a real problem and for anyone saying they have the choice to leave – of course they do, but HK and other comparable cities need working class people like this to function – it benefits everyone.

  • lakawak

    Did you think it made you sound scholarly to describe 113 years as 1.13 centuries?

  • lakawak

    I missed the point where these people are FORCED to live there…and that there is SO much extra space in Hong Kong that there is no need for all this since there is plenty of normal sized apartments available.

    Oh…maybe because that wasn’t in the article, since the alternative to these tiny apartments is nothing.

  • Middle Molly

    Maybe not shocking.. but we know that when animals do not have enough space, they are more aggressive and they are sicker. I’ve watched enough shows about animal hoarding to know that domesticated animals (I’m talking about dogs and cats primarily) need a certain amount of space to have a decent life.

    So.. what about people? What’s their minimal square footage to have a healthy life? What does happen to people when they are forced to live in very tiny places.. even if the place is clean?

  • Holden

    It’s funny how in one sentence you say “the poor can just take public housing” but in the next you say the government shouldn’t build public housing because it encourages people to be poor.

    Have you applied for public housing in Hong Kong? Do you know how long it takes to be approved? Why do you assume that people living this way must enjoy it, and that they have the means to leave HK if they want to? Why do you think the government would have to take property from somebody else to build public housing, rather than using the many, many acres of land that it’s just sitting on?

  • Tan Hui Leong

    Even animals in the zoo have a better living space than Hong Kong which was ranked as Top of a most liveable city by Economist ?

    Human rights organization Society for Community Organization commissioned a series of photographs showing what a number of unacceptable living spaces look like.

  • Andrea Mitchell

    As awful as it must be to live in these places I work in a city where it is nearly impossible for some people to find an apartment. New landlord/tenant laws and a record low vacancy rate means that even people with income are homeless and sleeping outside or with dozens of other people in an overcrowded shelter. I work as a case manager in the women’s shelter and just saw a women use up all of her 60 allowable shelter nights per year and she is now sleeping in her car. She is 67, now gets social security and has breast cancer. Her doctor will not perform surgery until she has housing but she has gotten denied from every apartment she has applied to because she owes hundreds of dollars to utility companies. She was even denied for subsidized housing for seniors.

    I can’t be certain but I think the 3.5 million people that currently do not have a home in the US would prefer one of these tiny spaces than sleeping under a bridge in the dead of winter.

  • tyrohne

    Did that verbiage annoy you, somehow? Since I was approximating how long photography has been used as propaganda it seemed to fit the tone and timbre of my post.

  • Katie

    So you agree that violence may be higher due to an overcrowded, urban setting yet you (ignorantly) reject the connection between said violence and psychological suffering? And you also go on to contradict yourself completely a few sentences later when you question the connection between urban density and violence..?

    Additionally, the idea that you find it warranted to make claims such as “I think this is a beautiful thing in that, while not ideal for me (I’ve lived in worse conditions in my younger days for extended periods) these folks seem nourished, protected and fairly healthy and could probably do with some cheap plastic bins and light duty housekeeping,” while you call others out on their arrogance and ignorance AND demand a “scientific paper” to support another’s assertion is comical.

    Get off of your high horse; stop making judgments as if you’ve somehow endured every hardship in this world or that you’ve witnessed it all and have all of the answers. Can you point me to a scientific paper that supports your interpretation of Hong Kong’s economy? While you’re at it, can you provide proof of your worldly endeavors and the unspeakable, impoverished conditions in which you’ve lived? One more thing – a scientific paper that shows the ideal living conditions for those in “India, Sub-saharan Africa, other parts of China and South America.”

    A roof over one’s head does not automatically indicate safety, mental health, or a society/economy that gives a damn about its lower-income population.

  • Ella Silver

    And somehow their kids still work harder in school than north american kids do.

    But yo.. i can’t figure out how they get in the front door is all.. I lived in a place this small – not with a family. That’s an impressive feat! But most of my spaces are usually tiny. I prefer them. This doesn’t shock me but they DO seem to have a lot of stuff.

  • Ella Silver

    I’ve been to China and have traveled in both large cities and very small, remote villages. Trust me, it is quite heartbreaking how some of these people have to live. Though I don’t necessarily agree that THIS is one of those cases. You can say that photography easily manipulates space and while I agree with you, the fact that these people are living so very vertically is enough evidence for me to say that they’re in a pretty damn small space. As someone who has ALSO lived in small spaces (and doesn’t mind them actually) living vertically is part of how you cope with that. You don’t take advantage of vertical space unless you have to. People don’t think of doing that until it’s necessary. So while I”m not disagreeing that a lot of things about this have been blown out of proportion, I don’t think the space itself is one of them. :)

    I don’t think they’re unhappy either. I also don’t necessarily think that this is a “human rights violation” – though nothing was said about the state of their plumbing.. or the building’s plumbing.. But normally if you’re trying to prove human rights violations, the plumbing would be brought up if it were at all an issue..

    I think to most north americans, most of whom can’t even fit in the door of this place.. this is about the worst thing they can imagine. Their imaginations are obviously limited. Because you’re right. It gets much much worse.

  • tyrohne

    My terms aren’t meant to be absolute. You casting them that way is a failure of logic. They are meant to convey there is a stasis that always exists in a modern society where some element will probably need some form of state sponsored care (sad, but true.) What I do know is that when the government makes more forms and quantities of welfare available, middle class growth slows and those taking assistance from the government increases and the rich, well they stay rich. Who gets hurt? What’s better for a soul? Handouts from a bureaucracy or working really hard (If you are able) to pull yourself out of poverty?

    America 2013 is a great case in point.

    Could the government curtail the housing shortage in Hong Kong? Maybe, but then the government would have to increase revenues (taxes) to build and maintain the infrastructure, the property would not be generating revenue from the state, etc. As a frequent visitor to HK, beyond the parks, I’m unfamiliar with the many many acres of land available for easy residence construction that isn’t already being exploited. What land are you referring to owned by the government available for building?

    Are there solutions? Of course there are and these people have found one of them. It offends your sensibilities.

    I spent 3 weeks in Haiti helping to rebuild from a 2010 earthquake last fall. Best solution I’ve seen there were all from the private sector (modular two story housing) but could not work in Hong Kong due to climate and land/space issues.

  • Ella Silver

    actually China generally is very non-violent. I have spent time in some very big cities there and in every dirty, scary back alley neighbourhood i wandered into, people were kind, friendly and accommodating. Sure, they’re obliged to treat white, female tourists with kid gloves. But lots of people are obliged to do lots of things and don’t do them.

    Crime is always higher in urban centers because there are more people (so they have numbers on their side) and it’s easier to evade capture. But on the whole, china is very NOT violent. I would be far more terrified in sober during the day in Chicago (a tiny city in comparison) than i would drunk and vulnerable at night in shanghai. Sorry. It’s not JUST urbanization that makes your cities violent dudes..

  • Ella Silver

    You don’t have google?

  • Ella Silver

    Look my boyfriend’s family are from HK (The famed and weird Kowloon) and he moved here when he was about 4 or 5. His parents were fruit vendors. They were not in the upper echelons of HK society. They lived small and cramped, pretty much like this. And while they made a choice to come to north america (I live in canada but his parents are in the usa) they didn’t feel like refugees or desperate. They came here because they had heard there were opportunities for their kids that they wanted to explore. They came here to open a restaurant because they had business-building family members already here.

    Katie it is very myopic of you to assume everybody who can live with less than you is suffering. Maybe some do. But maybe some are very happy and raise happy kids. You can’t just blanket everyone who isn’t spoiled and fat with a big backyard as a suffering being. How privileged do you have to be?

  • tyrohne

    You seem to be taking this a little too seriously. I said violence is higher as population density increases. This is a fact. NYC has more violence than say, Pawnee, IN.

    The poster said “many studies” show that violence (I inferred some correlation to density and frequency) increases. This isn’t true. I wouldn’t consider HK or Tokyo or even Mumbai or Dehli to be more violent than Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Chicago or Gary, IND.

    As far as HK Growing, I can’t post links but you can post this article name in google and get the facts. It’s a little unfair of me because I happen to be in Private Capital Investment for a firm in Bahrain so I kind of get to read this stuff for my job…. “Hong Kong Growth 2013 expectations”. The wikipaedia page on HK also gives some good detail as to why the city seems to do so well.

    A roof over ones head with plumbing, heat and electricity does take care of some of the basic elements of Mazlow’s heirarchy of needs.

  • tyrohne

    I agree 100% I feel far safer in Seoul or Tokyo than I do in Durham NC or Matamoros, Mexico.

  • Joe

    And yet, what is the violent crime rate in Hong Kong compared to the US, where we have tons of space. I think a comparison of those two points will pretty much eliminate that line of logic. Not that the space is not an issue, just that the corollary is not applicable.

  • Ben

    the problem is they can’t leave, you see. this is the only place they can have. thats the thing abt hong kong . its either you r rich and show people how ‘world class’ this city is and can leave whenever you want, OR you suck it up and live in the toilet-cum-bedroom. you been in worse situation doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong with what you see here . some people here are not in their younger days. but retirement age.

  • Guest

    I feel like you’re a Westerner who’s seen some pretty bad poverty in India or Africa and thus consider yourself the foremost authority on what’s acceptable for non-Western people to live in. Ok, others live in worse. There’s always someone in a worse situation. I’m not saying that these people in the HK pictures are suffering, but your diagnosis: “well they appear from this picture to be well fed/have creature comforts, etc.” comes as kind of ignorant. Also, of course it’s not for you. You’re a Westerner and deserve much, much better, right?

  • canucanoe2

    I never said that some cities are more violent because they are more densely populated than others. I said that overcrowding results in more violence.

    ” Who are you to say they are psychologically suffering?”
    Let’s see…Have you ever experienced cabin fever? If yes, was it a pleasant experience? Now take that experience and live with it every day of your life. Are you suffering?

    Please leave the derogatory comments in your head. The common sense I used to come to my conclusions is neither ignorant nor arrogant. If you still disagree with my common sense assessment, then I would say you are being somewhat disingenuous.

  • canucanoe2

    You just negated your own argument. If the alternative to these tiny apartments is nothing, then it would appear that they are forced to live there.

  • canucanoe2

    That’s a good point, but keep in mind that given a choice, I think most of these people would choose to live in something considerably larger. Let’s use Eskimos as an example. Their igloos were bigger than these apartments, but if they were smaller, the igloos would be warmer, yet the Eskimos still built them bigger than absolutely needed. I think that it is safe to say that many of the Chinese from the interior that emigrate to HK are coming from much larger living spaces so your comment on cultural differences doesn’t really wash. Given a choice, most people will choose to live in a larger space if possible.

  • tyrohne

    that’s quite the leap from what I’ve said. I don’t “deserve” anything beyond what I provide for myself for my family and what is within my means. I certainly don’t depend on a government to provide anything for me or take property from someone else to give to me. I am far from an authority on what it takes for an individual to live but I know I could easily and happily live in what is shown above if my goal was to live in Hong Kong on a budget.

    The fact that I have seen worse (and yet happy people) has no bearing on the fact that flats like the above exist and apparently flourish. If you force “the rich” to give up their apartments do you honestly think it would stop folks living like this? It would encourage more blue collar immigration into Hong Kong with new “cheap” housing. Economies today don’t exist frozen in time. When the economy of HK ebbs, the cost of housing will decline. So it goes.

    I don’t know how saying these folks appear to have what they need based on the photos is “ignorant”. Maybe English is not your first language? I don’t know…

  • tyrohne

    I apologise, Canucanoe if you felt I was being “derogatory”. I looked for a derogatory turn of phrase in my post but couldn’t find it so perhaps you mis-replied? If not, it was not my intent to be personal only to say your assumption seemed ignorant as in “uninformed” and your assumption seemed arrogant.

    As far as cabin fever, it has been my experience in HK (and Seoul, and Tokyo and Shanghai, etc.) that most folks spend the larger majority of their times out of their flat. Even among my closest friends, I can only count one who invited me to his flat where he lived with his wife, her mother and father and their two children in a very small space (I’d say maybe 300 sq m? but I didn’t see the entire home) and he was fairly affluent so I don’t know that the stranded in a Rocky Mountain Winter in a cabin is the right analogy here. And, no, I’ve not been in that situation either.

  • Rolfen

    Tiny cozy spaces are great, but when you have no choice then maybe it’s different!

  • canucanoe2

    So, in your mind, insinuating someone is ignorant and arrogant is NOT derogatory? As for the phrase, “cabin fever”, it is often used to describe situations like being stuck inside because of weather or stuck inside because of illness, or any situation where you are stuck in a small space for too long. It was a perfect analogy. BTW, 30 sq m is 2700 sq feet; palatial compared to 40 sq ft these people live in.

  • canucanoe2

    That was supposed to read 270 sq feet.

  • tyrohne

    perfect except that these folks appear to have a door (maybe?) and a vibrant city all around them and live in a temperate/sub-tropical climate that permits outdoor time. So yeah. perfect except that it’s entirely unapplicable… Or are you suggesting these folks live LOCKED up by some shadowy cabal?

  • AZ

    I think they just sleep and stay there when they really want some privacy. All active day is spent somewhere else at work or at city were they have more space. So your comparison is not correct. I think it’s just a different way of living.

  • aslı


  • rere rhea

    oh my god. i can’t imagine how they can do activity everyday. How about they health and many more,..??? and act

  • disqus_ovxuopQYu5

    I used to complain about basement suites I lived in but they were huge despite being musty and dark.

  • lucy

    ok,to many this is not so good,but look closely,it is organised,it may not be spacious,but it handles well and the occupants work it well

  • Katie

    Perhaps you should read your reply and then tell me who is being myopic – or at the very least “blanketing.”

    I was pointing out the contradictions made in Tyrohne’s response; I never made the assertion that these people in particular were suffering, I was responding to Tyrohne’s claims (based, in his response, solely on his own life experience NOT in Hong Kong) that these people just COULDN’T be suffering because it could be SO much worse and that these people choose to live that way! I was attempting to point out HIS assumptions and alluding to the fact that an overly-confident cultural analysis such as his can come off as incredibly arrogant. I never said that the people featured in the photos were suffering or not – I simply felt it presumptuous to rule out the possibility of economic/governmental/societal influence.

    Ella, it is very myopic of you to assume that I am living some abundant life or that I’ve never exposed myself to other cultures. Also, the “fat with the big backyard” comment is nauseating. How ignorant are you?