The apartment of New York City’s future, as the city imagines it, has all the amenities of modern life: wheelchair-accessible bathroom, a full kitchen, space for entertaining and access to a gym, communal lounge, front and back porches and a rooftop garden — all in 250 to 370 square feet.
The most heartwarming part for us? The 10-story tower will utilize modular construction, becoming Manhattan’s first apartment building to do so. That means units will be prefabricated in a factory environment, then stacked on top of one another like LEGOs. As usual these days, Manhattan is behind the curve set by culturally astute Brookyn, which has already stretched modular architecture to the limits with the country’s tallest hi-rise modular tower.
The scheme came about as a result of a competition to design and build an apartment tower composed entirely of micro-units, 55 homes the size of hotel rooms that Mayor Michael Bloomberg (he of the seven homes all the size of McMansions) hopes will be the first in a wave of tiny apartments aimed at addressing the city’s shortage of studio and one-bedroom apartments.
Small as it might be, the winning design was chosen for the way that it maximized light, airiness and storage space through the use of 9-foot-high ceilings, large windows, lofts and Juliet balconies.
“We have a shortfall now of 800,000, and it’s only going to get worse,” Mayor McMansion said during the news conference announcing the winning team, a partnership between Monadnock Development, Brooklyn-based nARCHITECTS and a nonprofit that serves creative arts professionals, the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation. “This is going to be a big problem for cities with young people.” Actually, for any city with people.
Forty percent of the units will be affordable (a relative term), restricted to tenants earning no more than $77,190 a year, with the rest at market rate. Rents start at $914 a month for those earning up to $38,344 a year, well below Manhattan’s average studio rent of $2,000, and go up to $1,873 for those making $77,190 (where did they get that number from?) or less.
If the interior renderings are any indication, the micro-units are designed to appeal most to young professionals, perhaps to a young academic: a person who requires lots of bookshelves for scholarly tomes and hosts the occasional dinner party. (In other words, the architects who made the renderings.)
“But there’s another side to the person — he or she likes to surf and so on,” said Eric Bunge, a principal at nARCHITECTS. Thus the bright-green surfboard, depicted in an interior rendering as stowed in a large loft storage space. (Okay, architects who surf.)
But he was quick to caution that the micro-units could be for anyone, from retirees to the nurses at nearby Bellevue Hospital Center. Apart from the kitchen and bathroom, the space is designed to be flexible, he said: “It’s all about appropriating your space, really.” We think he means that the space is flexible.
The announcement was made at the Museum of the City of New York, whose new exhibit, “Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers,” displays the winning proposal alongside a different 325-square-foot micro-unit model that features an electric toilet that doubles as a bidet; Italian shower fixtures; a Murphy bed that pulls down over a hot-pink sofa, a flat-screen TV that slides to reveal extra shelving and a coffee table-cum-ottoman that deconstructs into four stools. (Tenants: please consult our catalog of space saving products here.)
As for whether people would consider living in one, the answer on the streets of Kips Bay, perhaps predictably, seemed to depend on whether you asked a Manhattan dweller or a suburbanite.
Cataline Vincent, 26, who works at Bellevue, said she had struggled to find affordable rentals on her $40,000 salary. “In New York City, space is limited, and we’re willing to settle for what we can get,” she said. “In New York, people will live in a garbage can!”
Others were quicker to turn up their noses.
“I wouldn’t keep a dog in that size room,” said one woman, indignantly.
She declined to give her name, but she said she lived in New Jersey. (No jokes, please.)