Made from two concrete water pipes, the OPod Tube House is the brainchild of architect James Law as a proposed solution to tackling the decreasing affordability of housing in Hong Kong, and in recognition of the increasing trend of micro-living.
Law is known for developing commercial projects around the world, with a fascination for incorporating advanced technologies. But with the pressing demand for affordable housing, not least in his home city, James Law and his practice have been working towards projects that provide alternative solutions to high rents.
Scroll down for a tour inside the concrete pipe house and our interview with James Law.
Tell us about yourself, your practice and your design philosophy?
My name is James Law. I’m an architect and my practice is called James Law Cybertecture. We use a lot of technology, innovation, both in terms of materials and ideas. We call this work ‘cybertecture’, that represents the philosophy behind our practice.
What made you decide to create the OPod Tube House?
Every year, I do a couple of projects of my own interest. In the last three years or so, I’ve been fascinated with a new kind of architecture that is mobile, modular and can be built differently.
This year, the OPod Tube House uses concrete. We were really trying to think of the cheapest way we can build a really safe and sustainable house for people to afford. And to do that, we went back the other way round to look at the cheapest material possible which is concrete but with the idea of not having to cast concrete ourselves by sourcing something that is already ready-made. These concrete water pipes are ready-made in the factory so they’re surplus in supply. They’re very cheap to buy. So we used them to be the shell of our house.
Tell us about the process of creating the first OPod Tube House.
I was on a construction site one day, I saw these pipes. I suddenly had this idea that they will be great for creating very affordable houses. I called up a few of my friends in the construction industry and asked for their help. They found the company that became our partner that sponsored the pipes. We also found other partners who sponsored the fittings and the equipment inside. Together, we made the first OPod in one month.
What features does the Opod Tube House have?
The OPod is low-cost, so it doesn’t have a lot of high-technology. But we did use the internet lock on the door. The reason why we have an internet lock is that, we’re planning in the future, we really want to rent them out to people. So when we rent them out to people the last thing we want to do is to use the old ways of managing keys. So you can apply to stay in an OPod using on the OPod app and if you are given an Opod to stay in, you’ll be sent a digital access code on your phone. When you finish your stay in the OPod, when your tenure has been expired, the lock will reconfigure so that your phone won’t be able to access it anymore.
Concrete water pipes are also very heavy. These two pipes coming together are over 10 tonnes of weight so they’re very stable. Because these are circular in shape and they’ve been engineered as underwater water pipes, it means they are very strong and can withstand a certain degree of shaking like earthquakes. You can stack them up to four levels of tubes before it collapses. Because of the thickness of the concrete, it’s a good insulator against heat or cold. And the best thing of all, it is insulated against fire.
How many people can live in the pipe house?
We wanted to make house which was reasonable to live in for 1-2 people. And we wanted to make a house that was as small as it was reasonably livable. In Hong Kong, we are under a lot of pressure to live in very small spaces. So, the idea was to built a house that would be about a 100-square-feet, and see if we can put everything we need inside in a reasonable way and still keep it relatively affordable, mobile and flexible.
If a family that wants to live in OPods. All you have to do is have several OPods, they might be stacked on top of each other where certain pods are assigned to the children, one is a living room and one could be a kitchen. They’re not linked in a conventional way, you still have to come out of one and into another. But it’s still workable and very scalable.
How have people responded to the pipe house?
Most of the comments have been positive. Because they know that living small is a necessity. So a well-designed micro living space is essential for a lot of people. Moving forward, the most important thing is how we make it real, and make it an actual solution for society. How should we work with governments, NGOs and partners, so that these OPods are not just a concept but actually become something which is available for people who need it.
What’s in the future for the OPod Tube House?
The next set of OPods, will be an Opod building – which is a multi-stacked building. It just started construction in Shenzhen. It will have six Opod Tube Houses stacked on top of each other, three at the bottom, two in the middle, one at the top. It will be the first multi-story version of the single OPod. And will be used to be rented out to young people who can’t afford a space in the city.
Do you have any other projects lined up after the OPod Tube House?
We are planning to make a suitcase house. It’s a house that anybody can own out of a suitcase. From one suitcase you can transform into a house and live in it. The concept is that since we’re living a more gypsy lifestyle, and owning land or owning a place is so difficult, maybe we do need to live out of a suitcase.
Describe your personal design style. What kind of style do you like?
I like things which are humanistic and people-centric. Design that takes care of people inside our architecture and interiors. I like things which a lot of people enjoy using, so at the heart of it, my personal preference is to visit, stay at or make something that’s focused on people.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What do you think of this concrete pipe house? Tell us in the comments below.
We thank James Law for sharing his time with us. If you want to see more tiny homes, check out these stunning container homes that show us the joy of tiny living.