Last summer I found a little book in a book shop in Brooklyn. It was irresistible – I couldn’t stop reading it immediately in on the subway. The book tells the story of a tiny apartment in Hong Kong where architect Gary Chang has spent all his life. The apartment has lived through many phases and Chang records them all with loving precision. The book is filled with detailed drawings from every drawer and piece of furniture the apartment ever had and stories ranging from the smelly woman who rented the spare room to the precise order of his bath utensils in the bathroom in the apartment’s present state. It’s a complete history of a home.
Living like so many others in Hong Kong in an over-crowded 32 m2 apartment with his parents, three sisters and a tenant as a teenager made him dream at nights how he would change his home to have more space. But instead of moving out to have more space he has ended up continuously molding this one apartment into something that fits him perfectly. The family apartment with tiny dark rooms has gone through artsy deconstructive periods with black protruding boxes dividing the space, then there was a time of a bluish white empty room surrounded by curtains that hid everything. This has finally evolved to an ultimate living machine where everything smoothly glides suspended from the mirror-glass ceiling and reveals behind doors a kitchen, record collections, a bath tub, a study, a laundry space, book shelves and closets. The New York Times paid a visit to him a while ago and has some nice pictures. Looking for more information I found his apartment featured also on Archdaily and even in full action.
It took him 30 years to know how this apartment should work to be perfect. Or, one might think, the apartment has grown older with him and adapted to his needs. Mr. Chang seems to be living in a rare symbiosis with his home. It now answers to his every whim by sliding and changing. From bedroom to breakfast room, then a walk-in closet, after that an open landscape with hammock, a private cinema and finally a space entertaining 20 guests.
The apartment has over the years turned to a treasure box that would make Gaston Bachelard squeal of delight. But it is also a home that has so perfectly adapted to its owner that probably no one else could inhabit it. The yellow tinted windows that remind Mr. Chang of constant sunshine would make most feel nausea. The polished stone floor and mirror ceiling enlarge the small space but do not encourage cozy living habits. In this home you can meditate on a yoga mat but probably could not lay on your belly on the floor and read comics while eating a sandwich.
It somehow seems to fulfill the vision of a home that the Russian avant-garde architects had in the 1920’s and at the same time it is very much a dream of a high-speed capitalist society in its efficiency and sci-fi atmosphere. It is very private and totally alien to its surroundings (the apartment has a scary metal door) and at the same time constantly connected through its technology. I like it but at the same time it disturbs me – a very strange home.