Friday, April 30, 2010

Capsule Apartments - When is Small Too Small?

Retired engineer Huang Rixin invested some 40,000 yuan in designing and
building eight 'capsule apartments'. Photos by Shao Xin / Southern metropolis weekly

Retired engineer, Huang Rixin, is the man responsible for creating and patenting "capsule apartments". Huang, 78, says he was struck by the study of the so-called Ant Tribe - a clustered settlement of college grads in Tangjialing village on the outskirts of the capital. In China, students and newly-graduated workers swarm to the outskirts of the large cities in order to be able to afford accommodation. They live in cramped living quarters often sharing with others. They became known as the Ant Tribe when it was noticed how closely their behaviour resembled that of ant colonies. A trip to Tangjialing further strengthened the old man's decision to do something for these students. "After all, they are the future of our country," Huang says.

He had heard about Japanese capsule hotels - each a plastic or fiberglass module, measuring 2 m (6' 7") by 1 m (3' 3") and 1.25 m (4' 1") high, where the occupant sleeps, watches a mini television or surfs the Internet through a wireless connection - and decided to adapt this.

"I used to be a senior engineer designing hydraulic power stations. Designing the capsules was like killing a fly with a spear," he says.

So Huang took the plunge and invested 40,000 yuan ($5,860) to build eight cubicles, 2.4 m (7' 11" ) long, nearly 1.6 m (5' 3") high, and 0.72 m (2' 4") or 0.92 m (3') wide. He converted the three 7.5 sq m (24' 7") rooms he rented on the top floor of a three-story building in Liulangzhuang, a small village in Haidian district.

Photo courtesy: China Hush

"Liulangzhuang is only two stops from Zhongguancun, where many graduates work. Rentals here are low as the area is located in the rural-urban fringe zone," Huang says. However, being so close to their place of work is a big bonus for many since many "worker ants" must travel hours a day on extremely crowded buses or other transit.

Compared to the coffin-size capsule hotels in Japan, Huang's capsule is relatively spacious, allowing most occupants to stand. The capsules themselves are extremely spartan with only an anti-theft door, a collapsible computer desk and Internet connection.

"I think this is more suited to college graduates, and less expensive," Huang says, adding that his aim is not to make a profit.

At first, Huang's concept received little serious interest. While there was a great deal of curiosity, most were doubtful of a unit less than 2 sq m where the only storage is at the foot of the bed or under it.

But things changed after Huang sent an e-mail to Beijing Youth Daily to present his idea. Suddenly, his capsule apartments attracted a lot of attention.

Last month, China's biggest Web portal held a publicity event, inviting prospective tenants to spend half a month for free in these capsules. Some journalists were also convinced to participate so they could provide a first-hand account of how it felt.

Photo courtesy: China Hush

Huang has now rented all eight capsules at a monthly rent of 200 to 250 yuan ($29-$37) each.

As one might expect, there have been many criticisms of the apartments; but, Huang responds: "The word 'comfortable' means different things to different people."

"If you are living in Tangjialing and sharing a small room with five others; or, if you are wandering on the street with nowhere to stay, then this place will definitely feel comfortable."

But...all is not sunny on the capsule apartment horizon. Already, some occupants are considering moving. They are finding the narrow space; lack of proper heating and cooling; lack of cooking facilities; and, lack of personal bathrooms to be too burdensome.

Huang remains a proponent of his own creation, "I hope real estate developers will realize that there are still many poor university graduates looking for a place to stay. I wish they would convert some of their unsold high-priced homes into capsule apartments to rent out."

Via China Hush and chinadaily

No comments: