When the Hong Kong’s New Territories Exempted House Policy was introduced in 1972, it was intended to improve the standard of housing in rural areas of the New Territories.
Under the policy, every indigenous villager is entitled to apply to build a small house on private land, or on government land at a concessionary premium, within their ancestral village.
© Graham Uden
Provided the house conforms to certain criteria, these buildings are exempted from formal government submissions. Such criteria include the following:
• The building shall not be higher than 8.23m
• The roofed over area shall not exceed 65.03m2
• Balconies are limited to one elevation
• Construction should be in concrete, and following certain prescribed details
In recent times, the development of village houses has been subject to abuse. Build quality is often poor, and there is little consideration of environmental impact. The resulting houses also often don’t relate to their context.
HEAD feel a social responsibility to design architecture which tackles these issues.
HEAD Design Response
Working within the guidelines for allowable footprint, height and constructional methods, HEAD Architecture created a flexible modular typology which can be applied to any village house.
Many villages suffer from ad-hoc planning. With houses in close proximity, views are often blocked, and privacy restricted. To alleviate this common problem, HEAD have turned the views inward, enabling the house to feel relaxed and private, even in the most densely populated village setting.
Central to HEAD’s design is a triple height dining room, which connects all internal spaces together.
In traditional village houses, the lower floors are often dark, with little natural light. In HEAD’s design, the dining room benefits from an eight square metre clear glass skylight, which allows light to penetrate deep into the building. This atrium is a dramatic and visible focus for the home.
HEAD has also been careful to consider the fragile rural character of the village.
The understated exterior treatment of HEAD’s house is compatible with the quiet charm of secluded Shep Mun Kap village. In future houses, HEAD will continue to make careful adjustments to the exterior of each house to ensure that it is harmonious with the fabric of its neighbourhood.
In line with HEAD’s philosophy that the new house prototype should minimise impact on the environment, the design embraces passive solar design. The large windows and open plan enable sunlight to penetrate into the building, thus reducing artificial lighting requirements.
The triple height space enables stack-effect ventilation, reducing the requirements for active air conditioning. This is further enhanced with the distribution of ceiling fans through the house.
Renewable materials including bamboo flooring have been used where possible. Energy efficient LED lighting has been installed throughout the home.
The house has been readied for the future installation of a Zigbee communication system. This network device enables intelligent control of home entertainment, lighting, air conditioning and security systems.
The rooftop has waterproofing, irrigation and drainage ready for the future installation of a green lawn roof. This will help absorb heat and reduce solar gain on the upper floors.
The Way Forward
Together with their partners, HEAD are already preparing to build a second house. This is made possible through cooperation with indigenous villagers and elders.
As subsequent houses are built, HEAD will continue to refine the details of the standard module. Such refinements will include additional green features such as solar energy water heaters and solar panels.
HEAD hopes that, by creating a design which is flexible to suit many different village situations, these houses will provide an affordable solution, which enhances the quality of life in Hong Kong’s rural villages.
Project: House 3098
Village: Shep Mun Kap Village
Location: Tung Chung, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Area: 700 sqft
Completion year: 2012
Developer: Oceanic Properties Limited
Architect: HEAD Architecture
Designer: Mark Panckhurst
Photographer: Graham Uden