Adaptability in the invisible urban slum: a case study of sub-divided units in Hong Kong

Maggie Ma Kingsley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book

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The laissez-faire housing market and the demand for housing makes decent living environments increasingly out of reach to low-income communities. The phenomenon is especially extreme in Hong Kong, where the high cost of living gives rise to Subdivided Units (SDUs) – a type of micro-apartment rental flat that has been divided from a single unit into multiple, self-contained households of approximately 10-20sqm. SDUs in Hong Kong could be considered as a form of urban slums for underprivileged communities. However, as a result of their internalised form, they are largely invisible to the public eye. The low-income communities living in these households – including those with two or more family members – face daily challenges living in overcrowded spatial conditions. When combined with the temporary nature of SDUs as a type of transitional housing, the occupants’ adaption of space becomes critical to their quality of life. This paper investigates the marginal living condition in SDUs through graphical spatial studies of 180 units in a focused district in Hong Kong. The research explores how occupants adapt to confined and temporary spaces, as well as how small spaces and privacy issues affect the living patterns of people in SDUs. Adopting and reinterpreting the graphical analysis of Alexander Klein, the study reveals the existing habitation patterns of the occupants in relation to zoning, circulation, spatial interaction, and geometric quality of space. The analysis reveals the necessary qualities to enhance the residents’ adaptability in marginal living conditions, and the need for minimum standards to protect the habitability for affordable housing. The result of this research could be used to inspire policymaking for affordable housing, emphasising developmental strategies with human-centred considerations for marginalised living environments for the underprivileged communities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnnual Conference Proceedings of the XXVIII International Seminar on Urban Form
Subtitle of host publication"Urban Form and the Sustainable and Prosperous City"
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2022


  • quality of life
  • affordable housing
  • Alexander Klein
  • minimum dwelling
  • human-centered design


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