They began as simple gaps between one’s own balcony and the balcony belonging to the floor above. As a collection, these caged spaces became either cautionary semi-private spaces or curated in a proud exhibition of the everyday.

The gaps were pre-fabricated spaces for individual customisation. Services were unusually subtle compared to the flamboyant residents. A pop-up gap for the local police station, camouflaging itself into the residential background.

This was a place for the locals. Neighbourhood services didn’t need to advertise themselves. Business was from a routine relationship as opposed to instant impulse. It was a statement not to do something with one’s window.

The residents of N17 was the neighbourhood Scrooge… or a minimalist vampire.

Relationships were put on display as neighbours learnt from each other. It was a vernacular open-source architecture.

The windows suffered when these conversations were blocked. Maybe their owners were daunted by the gas meters.

Two chairs and a few hanging lines formed an extensions. Suddenly this was understood as the local nursery, where a granny would babysit all the children of the block. She just did her own thing. I wasn’t not sure if she even got paid.

A window displaying the award for “wholesome good family certificate” as well as other services were allowing the neighbours to outsource housewifery. The roles within the confines of domesticity was regurgitated and outsourced to the public responsibility of the community. Traditionally, every dorm would have their own canteen. “打饭”, meal-fetching, was somewhere between going to the supermarket and getting a takeaway. Life within the home was minimised, thus increasing productivity in the workspace. That was the theory anyway.

This is living proof that recessions can drive innovation. The creative use of materials, experimentations with building works, archetypes of windows were literally thrown out of the window when economy was an objective. There was no snobbery here. Minding your own business was never so social. The egoless competition was simply an organic evolution of function, illustrating that neighbourhood really isn’t about a communication of aesthetics.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

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