As Protests Rage, These Dizzying Photos Show Life In One Of The World’s Densest Cities

Housing costs in Hong Kong are astronomical, and a third of Hong Kong’s population is crammed into subsidized public housing. One photographer documents the overwhelming structures that result.

The protests that swept Hong Kong this weekend are about who gets to elect the leaders of the city. But the protest movement in the city has been growing for years, based on the same issues of rising costs and economic inequality that are endemic across the planet. The Wall Street Journal explains: “Students have led the push for democracy in Hong Kong all summer, tapping into the frustration felt by their generation, which has struggled with soaring housing costs, an economy dominated by several large conglomerates, and competition from mainland Chinese for services such as education and health care.”


In Hong Kong, where an average small apartment can cost $2,000 per square foot and one property developer recently listed the most expensive apartment in the world, it’s not surprising that around a third of the city’s population can only afford to be crammed into subsidized public housing–and that they’re not happy about it.

In a new photo series called Stacked, Australian photographer Peter Stewart documented the public towers from the outside, showing some of the most densely packed neighborhoods in the city.

The series began after several trips to the city. “I started exploring alleyways and places like the infamous Chungking Mansions for a look at the grittier side of the city and its structures,” Stewart says. “On a photowalk with a friend one day I was taken to one of the big public housing estates in Kowloon. … From there on, the fascination formed with photographing these structures.”

The photos show glimpses of the lives of the people inside, like clothes dangling precariously from balconies. Inside, the apartments look different. “Like with a lot of architecture, what might be considered ugly on the outside, is not always the case on the inside,” Stewart explains. “Apartments here, although very small, are usually very modern and comfortable on the inside.”

Unlike in some other parts of the world, getting a spot in a public development in Hong Kong is considered a score–more than 200,000 people are currently on the waiting list. Those that don’t make it can end up in “cage homes”–micro-apartments that are only big enough for a tiny bed surrounded by wire walls.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.