Minimalism is the new excess. By force or by choice, households are becoming smaller — not just in the sense of tinier families, but tinier homes. In an urban setting, the trend has manifested as micro-apartments: 360 square feet or less of living space, stacked in big cities for the benefit of a new fleet of single adults.
As we wrote about previously, apartment buildings and residential condominiums are on the rise, in part due to changing demographics (urban singles) and living habits (a growing preference for city life). Micro-apartments can be useful in bringing affordable housing to the masses — an appealing option those that prioritize location and convenience over space.
New York City has become a hotbed for micro-apartment building and gilding, testing and nesting. Cities like Tokyo, London, Seattle and D.C. have also grabbed the trend by the horns, but New York is going in full throttle, with Mayor De Blasio having proposed to end a limit on just how small apartments can be.
The reasons for this are simple: single person households have risen, as have real estate prices. Today 28 percent of households are just one person up from 13 percent in 1960; in NYC, it’s a third. Many of these singles would prefer having their own private space to splitting rent and amenities with strange roommates, hence their appeal.
Carmel Place: A macro-experiment for micro-units
Formerly known as My Micro NY, Carmel Place is the result of a design experiment focused on creating a new type of building that serves as a “systemic new paradigm” for affordable housing. NArchitect, a New York based architectural firm, recently completed construction in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood.
The modular residential building is made of 55 micro-units ranging from 265 to 260 square feet: slightly larger than a one-car garage, but far nicer. More than 60,000 people applied to live in the 14 units designated as affordable: priced at $950 per month for those that meet income restrictions.
For other units, the market rate is $2750 — about average for an normal-sized Manhattan studio. This means that some renters will actually be paying more for less space. This isn’t deterring the demand, however — minimalism is still appealing for the same reason some drivers prefer small cars, own small dogs and carry small bags. Sometimes, less is more.
Despite their compactness, these particular micro-units are well designed and include amenities usually associated with luxury condominiums. They boast little balconies, dishwashers, storage space and tall ceilings, not to mention a gym and lounge area for tenants. What they lack for in space these units make up for in enhancements, modernity and fold-out wizardry.
A special waiver allowed for Carmel Place to include only micro-unit apartments. If the project is successful, future buildings would still need waivers — though tiny studios can still legally be included in buildings with a mix of larger apartment sizes.
Tiny units, big future?
The goal of the Carmel Place project was to create compact units that are safe, healthy, comfortable and affordable. While critics argue that this is more of a band-aid than a panacea to a deficit in affordable housing, others counter that the demand and design speak for themselves.
If micro-apartments are to become ubiquitous in cities like NYC, it’s important that the standards with which Carmel Place was designed are prioritized to avoid the conditions associated with tenements built prior to zoning laws. The last thing anyone wants is to see low-income families crammed into spaces for lack of better options, or poorly designed units that lack handicap accessibility and proper airflow.
Properly constructed micro-apartments give singles the chance to have privacy in a location that is convenient for them, along with other amenities they might not get elsewhere. There’s also the added benefit of a lower carbon footprint. Whether the trend is a sustainable one remains to be seen, but the simple beauty of NYC’s first foray into the market looks incredibly promising indeed.
Residents are expected to move into Carmel Placed in early March, 2016.
Featured image: designmilk via Flickr