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Hong Kong Architect Living Large in Small Spaces

A Hong Kong architect has been transforming his childhood home his entire adult life, in an effort to solve the most basic problem in his congested home town - how to make the most out of little space.

Living in a crowded city presents problems: traffic, pollution and noise. But for a child growing up in these conditions, sometimes the largest problem is finding personal space.

"My home, the net area is about 360 square feet [33 square meters], it's actually like a standard hotel room, but at that time it was home for my whole family," he explained. "My parents, I have three young sisters and even there is one room to sublet to others so actually seven people and three rooms, you can imagine such a space like this."

Gary Chang is an award-winning architect in Hong Kong who has transformed his childhood home into a multi-functional modern space by using moving walls. His different configurations can create 24 rooms with such luxuries as a spa, a cinema, and a guestroom. It is a far cry from his days sleeping in the living room in the tiny apartment in a working class neighborhood on eastern Hong Kong Island.

"I still remember the time before staying in my, the living room, when I grow a little bit older, when I was even younger when I had to sleep with my sister," he said.

In Hong Kong, space comes at a premium - government figures show the average apartment sold for more than $7,500 a square meter on Hong Kong Island in 2007. Prices have come down a bit since then, and usually are lower in other parts of the city, but many families squeeze four or more people into apartments of less than 45 square meters.

For what he calls the "domestic transformation" of his apartment, Chang took inspiration from the versatility that was born out of necessity, when his family learned to live together in crowded conditions.

"One good example is the table, the dining table, at that time, back in the seventies the table was very, one thing I like very much is it is very multi-purpose, we do our homework, we have the dining, even night industry [assembly goods for sale], we play mahjong all in the same table," said Chang.

So every space in his modernized home has different functions - for instance, the toilet can serve as a phone booth during parties.

As Chang points out, Hong Kong is not the only city that could benefit from learning how to create space where there is none.

"I think the issue is global, especially in city centers - in New York I am sure in London also, people will live in a very small place, but this doesn't mean that the place isn't expensive, it is very expensive - that's why it's so small," said Chang.

Anthony Hindmarsh of Qi Homes Property Consultants says that Hong Kong residents know what property is worth and though apartments may be small, a prime location can still garner a big price tag.

He says that the territory's citizens have adapted to the tight space in Hong Kong, although foreigners often have a harder time at first coping with less room.

"The space issue in Hong Kong is a really big factor, they come to Hong Kong they have these certain expectations and as they really have they look at their market and you can actually see their expectations come down notches every time they visit properties," he said.

Taking some advice from Chang could help relieve the pressure of tiny spaces. He recommends keeping things off of the floor, getting rid of or storing non-essential items, and focusing on vertical space such as shelving and fold-out furniture. He also thinks an essential element of dealing with small space comes down to basic interpersonal skills.

"I think the interrelationships between people are very important in how successful you can cope in [a] high-density situation," added Chang.

Chang sees his mission of optimizing resources and making a lot out of a little as an ongoing challenge. He laments that many of the projects he works on as an architect are too big for his tastes. As yet, he has not had a chance to convert any other small apartments into his idea of a modern dream home.