Micro-apartments Can Be Both Livable and Healthy 7

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Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
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Though incomprehensible to many people, and criticized as unhealthy by some, micro-apartments provide another tool to combat growing apartment unaffordability in the world’s most expensive cities.

With creative design and proper standards, small spaces can be liveable, healthy, and more affordable.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Australia ranks as the third-least affordable country in the world. Sydney, for example, with housing prices having risen 14.3 per cent in 2013, is projected to add an additional 1.6 million people over the next 20 years, and will require more than 600,000 new homes. New apartment design guidelines for New South Wales address both the size of dwellings and the amenities that make them livable. In addition, Minister for Planning Pru Goward said the guidelines could exert downward pressure on price, potentially cutting the cost of a new apartment by up to $50,000.

The guidelines include requirements such as “Living rooms and private open spaces of at least 70 per cent of apartments in a building receive a minimum of three hours of direct sunlight between 9 am and 3 pm in mid-winter.”

The guidelines specify minimum sizes too: studio apartments must be at least 35 square metres in size; one-bedrooms at least 50 square metres; two-bedrooms at least 70 square metres; and three-bedrooms at least 95 square metres.

Standards under consideration in Victoria would set a minimum size of 37 square metres for studio apartments and 50 square metres for one-bedroom apartments. Current guidelines do not include minimum floor area. Other requirements address amenities that make spaces more livable. For example:

  • Buildings should face north, and 90 per cent of apartments must receive direct sunlight
  • Apartments ceilings must be 2.7 metres
  • The site should include 20 per cent shared space for residents
  • Each floor can have no more than eight apartments per lift
  • Large-canopy trees should be accommodated on up to 15 per cent of the site

Demand and affordability notwithstanding, small spaces face criticism too. Some critics cite psychological effects of small spaces, lack of privacy, the hassle of reconfiguring furniture in multi-purpose rooms, and so on. This simply emphasizes the importance of good design. In fact, millions of people worldwide have been creating livable tiny spaces for centuries.

Azby Brown is director of the KIT Future Design Institute in Tokyo, and also consulted on New York City’s adAPT NYC micro-apartment design competition.

“We can make much smaller homes,” Brown said. “They won’t be more dangerous, they won’t be more uncomfortable, they’ll be equally livable, in fact maybe better.”

New York City has started to address affordability with its own design competition, adAPT NYC, begun in 2012. With a growing number of one-and two-person households, the city’s housing stock has not kept pace with demand. In fact, the city has only one million studio and one-bedroom apartments to house 1.8 million one-and two-person households.

The competition’s winning entry, dubbed My Micro NY, is now under construction on city property and is a collection of pre-fab micro-apartments ranging from 23 to 34 square metres. City codes prohibited the project, so then-mayor Michael Bloomberg waived several restrictions so the project can function as a test for the micro-apartment market.

With numerous amenities such as high ceilings and Juliette balconies, each apartment features two distinct zones. The “toolbox” contains the kitchen, bathroom, and storage, with full-height pull-out pantry, full-height refrigerator, range, and space for a convection microwave. The “canvas” is the flexible multi-purpose space and functions as the main living and sleeping area.

The building, designed by nARCHITECTS, includes numerous public areas, such as lounges, a café, and a ground-floor space designed for creative activities like lectures, rehearsals, and performances. Outdoor living spaces include a ground-floor porch with picnic tables and a rooftop garden.

The project will comprise 55 new micro-apartments, with 20 per cent (11 units) of these reserved for households with incomes not exceeding 80 per cent of the Area Median Income (AMI); nine per cent (five units) will be reserved for households with incomes not exceeding 145 per cent of AMI; and 11 per cent (six units) will be reserved for households with incomes not exceeding 155 per cent of AMI. The rest of the units will be market rate, along with one superintendent’s unit. Prices for the affordable housing units will range from$940 to $1,800 per month.

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7
  1. Steve Ryder

    The only people who benefit from micro-apartments are the developers. 'With creative design and proper standards small spaces can be livable, affordable and healthy'. Surely with creative design and proper standards spaces can and should be livable affordable and healthy irrespective of their size. If we continue to equate size with affordability we are on a slippery slope.

  2. Albert Vecerka

    I've lived in a 240 square foot (22.3 square meters) studio for about 8 years. I looked it as a machine for living. Great things about it were that it was on the top of the roof so having a lot of outdoor space was a real lifesaver. Winters were a bit claustrophobic. The other one was that the ceiling was a bit more then 9' tall which allowed me to have a loft bed and basically a lot of storage under it. I think a bit of height goes a long way and not only for practical reasons. Also, being up high, I had great light (not to mention the views) which was also really great. Australian model as weel as the NYC one, match my experience so I think we're on a right path. I would try one if I was still single.

  3. Manmeet Kaur

    It would surely help as a stepping stone for single people trying to run their family or trying to make a decent living in a foreign country.

  4. JD

    We are on a slippery slope if we continue to mandate minimum sizes of apartments and then wonder why apartments are not affordable. The regulations mentioned here seem mainly to keep the supply of affordable housing low. I wonder: who benefits by a low supply of affordable housing? What are the business interests of the people criticizing the development of small, affordable housing?

  5. ScrewBot

    How am I supposed to fit my ten bicycles in there?

  6. Paul Simmonds

    To cater for the needs of all housing consumers, housing of all shapes and sizes is necessary. For singles who want to live in the city, micro-apartments are extremely convenient.

  7. dave

    Australia ranks as the third-least affordable country in the world… (Sydney is not New York… its closer to Houston, except it has a property bubble)