Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Small Is Beautiful?

Do demographics drive design? With singles a third of the city and rents sky-high, New York launched a design initiative, AdAPT, to create micro-unit apartments of 250-350 square feet. The winning entry calls for a ten-story tower of 55 units to be built as modules and then hoisted into place.

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Rendering from the nArchitects site

Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge of nArchitects created the winning design. Trained at Harvard, they left Boston for New York with the dream of starting their own firm – which they did in 1999. Like thousands of other city-dwellers working to launch a career, they spent their early years in a cramped, three-room apartment. Knowing how challenging life can be in a small space, they were well-prepared to design something better.

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Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge of nArchitects (NYT photo)

Eric Bunge in the NYT: “We felt people should have more space than this. But that was before we understood that the alternatives out there are far worse. There are people living together in substandard apartments all over the city who would prefer to live alone but can’t afford to. So let’s make a humane small space where people would want to live.”

Their design calls for each unit to have a fixed bathroom, kitchen, closet and storage area with the remaining space open and flexible. Adaptable furnishings make it work, with Murphy beds and a table or desk that can fold up and hang on the wall. Tenants also share a laundry room, fitness room, and space for bikes and extra storage.

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Rendering from the nArchitects site

Each micro-unit has lots of natural light, a Juliet balcony and 9 foot ceilings to create an open, airy ambiance. I do like the architect’s innovative approach… using practical aesthetics to create an engaging habitat.

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Rendering from the nArchitects site

New York already has a shortfall of 800,000 singles looking for a place of their own. Within the next twenty years that number will rise by almost 1 million more, as young people stream into the city. Is this their future – will they all be living in micro-units?

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Drawings from the nArchitects site

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Rendering from the nArchitects site

Studios in New York rent, on average, for more than $2000 a month. The micro-units will rent well below that… and being in Manhattan puts you right in the middle of the action. But can people thrive in such a small space?

For those young urbanites, it will be a challenge – they’ll have to be organized and embrace a more minimal lifestyle. I can see the appeal, but as we go through life, we also accumulate so much stuff.

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Rendering from the nArchitects site

I’ve lived most of my life in cities, first in NY and now in DC. I love walking to the metro, restaurants, shops and even cultural destinations. Plus, it’s fun to just meander around my neighborhood and soak up the urban vibe. The trade-off, of course, is you’re sharing that with a lot of your fellow urbanites. But that’s what density allows, you share in the bounty and live in close-quarters.

There’s an exhibit on micro-units at the Museum of the City of New York, with their own full sized micro-unit that looks like this:

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“LaunchPad” designed by Pierluigi Colombo and Amie Gross Architects. Photo by John Halpern, Museum of the City of New York

So what do you think, is small beautiful? Would it work for you? Leave a comment and let me know.

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3 Comments

  1. Hope

    Love this Dan…never imagined such a thing was possible. Thanks for broadening my little world.

    XO

  2. Chris Helfrich

    Small can most definitely be beautiful. These units seem extremely practical with a lot of potential for personalized fun.
    Reminds me of a story I read in the Times a while back about these types of houses in California: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
    To see this type of design innovation tailored to urban necessities/lifestyle is really, really cool.

  3. Linda

    Wow!

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