The New York apartment building sketched in the above image is hardly spectacular as architecture. And yet it could be hugely influential for urban living, which is why I'm commenting on it for our Vertical Mobility category.
New York, like most big cities, lacks affordable accommodation. Even the cheapest condos are out of reach for many, while rents have inflated to the point where people are forced to live in the suburbs. While suburban living may be fine for folks who hate big city life it lacks the "soul" that makes those cities appeal to the rest of us. And since the majority of suburban dwellers work in the city, it adds enormously to transportation and environmental costs at a time when we need to reduce street traffic.
There is no simple solution to the problem unless we build new cities from scratch and that's not going to happen. But for people who can adapt to living in smaller spaces the answer lies in micro-units of around 300 sq. ft. It's not a new idea. Micro-units are a reality in Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver and even in Victoria, BC. Of course, anyone accustomed to larger spaces (and with them the North American bigger-is-better culture) might be horrified at the thought of a 300 sq. ft. home. They needn't be.
My own condo is a mere 660 sq. ft. and that includes a walk-through closet and a laundry room. I have no difficulty imagining how it could be reduced by half and still be liveable. For example, look at the multi-purpose sofa below. It doubles as a bed, has storage drawers underneath, and can be used as a work station. So who needs a bedroom?
Of course storage is always a problem, therefore we could build aircraft-style overheard compartments, mounted where the walls meet the ceiling. In fact, if I utilised built-ins throughout my apartment, I could easily survive in a 330 sq. ft. space. Nor am I worried about insufficient natural light. With larger glass panes and thinner walls, you can now get more light into small spaces. Technology has changed the way buildings can be designed.
The apartment concept shown here is an entrant in an exhibition backed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers runs through September 15. The exhibition includes micro-unit schemes, a full-size model unit, and proposals from New York City’s adAPT competition, which called on developer-architect teams to design a building of micro-units. The mayor will waive zoning regulations at an East 27th Street site so the winning design can be built there.
With some good creative minds involved, including developers as well as architects, I'm convinced that new ways of "living small" will result. Cities everywhere will be better places and some of us, myself included, could happily return to our roots as city folk.
Thanks to Architectural Record magazine for making us aware of this project.