Drawing inspiration from my forced prison

City talk | Dennis Lee 4 Dec 2020

The call came during a peaceful Friday dinner. Three hours later, a mini-van with men in hazmat suits showed up at the front door - and there went 11 days of my physical freedom.

This was the closest experience to being in jail for a law-abiding citizen whose worst crimes were illegal parking and jay-walking.

As an architect, when I first entered the quarantine room, I could not help but analyze the spatial layout.

With windows at both ends of the room and a bathroom at the back corner, the setup was conventional.

Unfortunately there was not much to work with: two single beds with thin mattresses, two small tables and chairs, a bedside table and one flimsy clothing rack, which fell apart after the third day.

If one had to spend the next 264 hours in solitary confinement, one might as well spend some time shuffling pieces.

By consolidating two singles into a larger king, the circulation space around the beds was immediately maximized and the layout also avoided bad feng shui.

As in most hotel rooms, the best orientation is often having the long side of the bed facing the entrance - the drawback not being able to watch TV while lying in bed.

All essentials such as food, water, air and electricity were provided with varied degrees of sophistication.

Whether the food is edible or mattress too thin would be subject to personal liking.

There were two big disappointments. First, if even prisoners get one hour of daylight per day, there is no reason not to provide a small balcony or ground floor terrace at the back end of the room with partitions between neighbors.

Second, there was no wifi. Nowadays, any non-Amish individual would agree data connection is more important than good food or a mattress.

In fact, most hotels generally receive good ratings as long as their rooms are clean and have a reliable broadband connection. Without the need to spend extra, much better infrastructure could be provided in the roughly 2.5 m x 6 m quarantine room. It should be equipped with one bed - preferably a larger queen size - with an extra provided when needed.

We only need one large folding table for all appliances, a TV and laptop, one chair, one durable clothing rack with shelving and one power extension cord.

A discussion on quality of life is still valid, as a quarantined person is not a prisoner and has not committed any crime - none other than attending a work meeting with two Covid-19 confirmed participants in my case.

Yearning for a better designed quarantine room is not unfounded.

A better designed room goes a long way to bring comfort to the quarantined persons who are working with the government to contain a potentially massive virus outbreak.

With one out of seven persons in Hong Kong below the poverty line, this quarantine room is already far superior to the living environments of the many underprivileged families in Hong Kong - including those who live in bed cages and on the streets.

Perhaps this is the first step for the government and its housing divisions in understanding basic living standards and human needs, and the quarantine room might be the prototype of affordable modular living units to resolve our housing shortage in Hong Kong.

If collaborative efforts proved that 1,500 units could be built in a matter of months, imagine what we can do collectively to build modular housing in cleaned-up brownfield sites even before the first square meter of land is reclaimed at Lantau.



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