Hong Kong Housing Society designs flats for city’s ageing population – barrier-free, easily adaptable as occupants become frail

·4-min read

The Hong Kong Housing Society is planning to build more homes with features such as sliding doors, sinks that move up or down and room for people to move about easily in wheelchairs.

The city’s second-largest public housing provider after the Housing Authority is designing and showcasing flats with features that will allow occupants to remain in their homes as they grow older and become frail.

James Chan Yum-min, CEO of the society, said Hong Kong’s rapidly ageing population required new home design concepts for future developments.

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He said applying barrier-free and adaptable design concepts at the planning stage of public housing estates would allow occupants to “age in place” – or stay in their homes as they grow older – and improve their well-being.

“With these features already in place, younger people will be able to adapt their existing homes with minimal alterations in future,” he said.

The number of people aged 60 or above is projected to increase to 3.2 million by 2051, or 40.4 per cent of the city’s population, according to official data.

The society, a non-governmental organisation which describes itself as the city’s “housing laboratory”, commissioned a study on universal design and barrier-free access which it hoped would become a prototype for future homes.

It has created mock-up flats for public rental housing and subsidised sale flats, and for its Senior Citizen Residences Scheme, which integrates housing, recreation, medical and health care services for middle-class tenants.

Hong Kong Housing Society CEO James Chan (left) with Patrick Tsang, general manager for planning and development. Photo: Winson Wong
Hong Kong Housing Society CEO James Chan (left) with Patrick Tsang, general manager for planning and development. Photo: Winson Wong

It will engage stakeholders, including government departments, elderly service organisations and developers, before publishing its final report next year.

The study showed it is possible to design accessible homes without significantly increasing the size of flats.

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Installing features such as sliding doors – which require more wall space than hinged doors – to allow wheelchair users to pass through unhindered would only increase the internal floor area of a public rental flat for one or two people from 226 sq ft to 245.4 sq ft.

The society has already applied the design to some homes in the first phase redevelopment of Ming Wah Dai Ha subsidised housing estate in Shau Kei Wan. Of the 966 flats, 24 are barrier-free and about 330 are adaptable units.

A prototype home designed to improve accessibility for ageing residents. Photo: Winson Wong
A prototype home designed to improve accessibility for ageing residents. Photo: Winson Wong

It is planning to provide more such flats, including at its projects in Ming Wah Dai Ha in Shau Kei Wan, Ma Tau Kok in Kowloon City district and Hung Shui Kiu in northwestern New Territories.

The flats are designed with layouts to provide ample space for wheelchairs to move about easily.

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Hong Kong is notoriously the world’s most expensive city for homebuyers, and also one of the worst in the region in terms of living space per capita.

Retrofitting an existing home for the needs of elderly occupants can be difficult in the city’s cramped spaces, but with barrier-free design concepts already in place, remodelling will cost less, the society found.

The bathroom, for example, could have flexible hosepipes for all drainage and fresh water pipes to accommodate a height adjustable sink later if needed.

In the kitchen, cabinets and appliances such as the hob, washing machine and fridge could be fitted to allow easy adjustment for wheelchair access.

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Lawrence Lui Wai-ching, co-founder of Longevity Design House, which specialises in home renovations and maintenance for the elderly, said the society appeared to have taken into account users’ needs.

“Renovations can be very expensive, especially for low-income households, so it is beneficial to have these provisions in place,” he said.

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