While living in a micro studio is a choice for some, for others it is a necessity. As the population in urban centres continues to grow, the trend of living in small apartments is growing both in Australia and around the world.
According to census data, the number of studio apartments in Australia increased 15 per cent from 2006 to 2011, increasing by 5,000 units to 37,600. In central Melbourne and Footscray, studio apartments for sale are as small as 15 square metres.
Before hitting the Australian property market, the trend toward micro living began to develop within high dense cities such as London, Tokyo and Singapore, where the average size of a studio unit or one bedroom apartment can vary between 11.5 and 50 square metres.
In New York City, the average size for a new micro apartment is 37 square metres. However, there are several existing and renovated buildings in the city where apartments can be less than 10 square metres in size. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has recently launched a pilot programme that aims to have 25 square metres stand as the minimum size allowed.
Small apartments allow tenants to reduce their expenditures without giving up central location, but this is not always an exact equation. According to Australia’s real estate data, the entry-level regular price for studio apartments in inner Melbourne is over $300,000, which buys someone a unit just 34 square metres in size, on average. The size may be reduced, but it appears the price is not.
Moreover, new apartments are often limited by building regulations. For example, a new one-bedroom apartment in New South Wales must be a minimum of 60 to 65 square metres. As is the case in New York City, however, older apartments that were built before these building codes came into effect are allowed to be smaller.
Other building authorities are trying to prevent an excessive boom in micro apartment developments by requiring one-bedroom flats to be a minimum of 50 square metres.
While Melbourne City Council is considering similar rules because of concerns about the residents' quality of life, lovers of small apartments argue micro apartments are greener, with less clutter and a smaller carbon footprint, citing them as a reaction against the immoderation of big suburban houses and urban sprawl.
Tiny apartments have been getting a lot of attention from architects and interior designers based on to the fact that small spaces create a design challenge and force them to come up with innovative ways to incorporate storage and functionality, allowing residents to make the most of reduced spaces. Some innovative designs include walls that move to create new spaces or tables and beds that pop up out of the floor.
With urban space already at a premium and the situation only set to become more dire, it seems micro apartments are here to stay. Proper urban planning and architectural design will be essential in tackling population growth.
Despite their benefits, however, not everyone is in favour of micro apartments. According to RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology)planning Professor Michael Buxton, the micro trend constituted ''rampant exploitation of renters'' and he said minimum size standards must be applied for new developments.
''Often the bedrooms have no direct sunlight,'' he said. ''Developers make money by such cramming but also by not providing car parking and other facilities. People who buy such small spaces do not live in them.''
With urbanisation constantly increasing, micro apartments in good locations in city centres will continue gaining in popularity, especially among young people, travellers and students who are rarely at home.