“Due to the extremely high cost of urban living, I think attitudes have changed and tiny living is now an essential part of the architecture of the new city,” says architect James Law of Hong Kong-based James Law Cybertecture. “As such, our project represents a new attitude to supporting the ability for more people to live affordably in the city.”
The project involves converting old concrete drains into tiny homes known as OPod Tubes that can be easily stacked atop of each other, not only providing shelter, but optimising otherwise unusable spaces, and recycling the pipes in process. “The only objective of this project was to inspire optimism for the young people of Hong Kong,” James says. “To see an alternative architecture able to accommodate the fact that it is now too expensive to live in your own conventional city home or apartment.”
The architect says that we have no choice but to accept micro-living to be “a necessary evil” in cities as we move forward: “There is certainly going to be increasing cost to space, and as such people will need to live in smaller amounts of space in order to be within the city.”
Each OPod offers nearly 10 square meters of living space — plus some extra room for some innovative storage thanks to the cool, curved walls — and, because they’re so weighty (nearly 20,000kg), can be stacked without the need to bolt them together which massively reduces the cost of materials and installation (they’re estimated to be around $21,000 to purchase and fit out). Features include LED lighting, timber flooring, a mini kitchen, shower and toilet, and a fold-out bed. There’s space for up to two people.
“Like any architecture the performance of the environment varies from the climate and location where the architecture is placed,” James goes on. “Some of the best things about using a concrete water pipe is that is that it is structurally very strong and the concrete is a relatively good insulator against heat and cold.”
James reveals that the flash of inspiration came when he noticed water pipes stacked on a construction site: “I went to explore some of these pipes and found them very interesting.” His firm has received enquires from across the globe from organisations seeking to “provide affordable living for different cultures and locations”.
“The reaction to the project has been absolutely amazing,” James tells me. “We have received over one billion clicks on articles and news reports from around the world over the past month.” The project has been covered by the likes of CNN, BBC and Business Insider. “I believe the reason for this huge reaction is that the project has touched a key issue that is very much shared around the world,” James continues. “Urbanisation has become a key driver for growth and many, many people are facing affordability problems to find an adequate place to live in the city. Our project is very much a commentary. The water pipes are an interesting alternative for the disenfranchised youth of our cities.”
The social aspect is important to James, whose philosophy at Cybertecture is to create technology that helps “alleviate suffering”. He’s also a technologist, entrepreneur, justice of the peace and a member, advisor or leader of a raft of organisations such as the World Economic Forum Global Agenda, and the Hong Kong Designers Association.
“Our philosophy requires us to ensure our designs go some way to promote new ideas for the built environment around us,” James says. “Every year, I try to work on at least one world-relevance and a people-important project. I’m now working on five new major projects at Cybertecture that will change the very expectation of what architecture can achieve in terms of mobility, materials, and space. They will be revealed later this year.”
He says that the industry must be ever-more creative to find solutions to the issues of the modern world: “From the need to house more and more people in our cities, to the issues of affordability and quality of housing, architects and designers have a great challenge ahead,” James adds. “We must find new solutions to maintain a decent and equitable environment for people to live in.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces