Micro apartments are spreading from their traditional birthplaces in Asia's packed urban centres to major cities in the West, where popularity density is on the rise and floor space commands an increasing premium.

Ultra-small residential apartments are far from a new phenomenon when it comes to the modern city. They have been common in Japan and Hong Kong since the 1970s due to the incredibly high population density of these urban environments.

As populations rise and rents in surge in the major cities of the West, however, the micro apartment is migrating to new environments, albeit assuming a distinctive character highly disparate from its Asian predecessors.

In some of North America’s leading cities, micro apartments are viewed as trendy and fashionable residential spaces for emerging professionals, as opposed to cramped pigeon holes that serve as expedients for overpopulation.

Opening in 2010, the Burns Block was one of the first micro apartment developments in the West Coast city of Vancouver to target trendy urban professionals

The 110-year-old building situated in the city’s downtown east side was converted into rooms measuring 270 square feet in area. The modest size of the apartments meant they rented for roughly $300 less than the average bachelor apartment in the local market, appealingly immensely to young white collar workers hoping to reside closer to their place of employment.

Micro apartments are also becoming popular in two of America’s most iconic and dynamic cities – San Francisco and New York. Ingenious designers in both these hubs of innovation have produced features that enable micro apartments to come equipped with a full set of amenities despite their modest size.

These include beds that double as desks, as well as foldaway counter spaces that can be stowed into walls when their usage isn’t required.

New York in particular has upped the ante for the micro apartment, recently opening a complex of 182 square foot apartments that packs amenities onto multiple levels via the vertical height of the room.

The appeal of micro apartments to certain market segments in urban areas is highly understandable. Young and ambitious professionals spend most of their hours working in order to advance their burgeoning careers, and do not spend copious amounts of time at home.

When they’re not working, it’s highly likely that they’re outside partaking of social or recreational activities. They do not yet have dependents in the form of children, and when it comes to their residential needs they really need little more than a private space in which to sleep, wash, and stow their personal belongings.

The benefits of micro apartments are subject to certain limitations, however. In order for them to appeal to urban professionals they need to be situated in vibrant areas with ample sources of amusement and distraction, such as coffee houses, bars, nightclubs and theatres.

They are also characterised by a comparatively swift tenant turnover. While living in a confined space is appropriate for single urban professionals still chiefly preoccupied with their careers, they are extremely unlikely to enjoy such residential settings later on life – particularly once they form couples or decide to start families.

For this reason, while micro apartments can definitely fill a swiftly expanding niche in the urban property market, developers should keep in mind the limitations of such projects, and their dependence upon cycles of demographic change.