The micro apartment is no stranger to cities where space is a premium, such as Tokyo and Hong Kong, although the concept has really taken off in the last decade when downsizing became trendy. Yet, the creation of smaller and smaller units continues to divide opinions.
On one side of the ring, advocates like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg believe micro units could open up more reasonably priced living options, with the New York Times reporting that more apartments dedicated to singles “could eventually bring down rent prices across the city, as more two- to four-bedroom apartments would then open up to families”.
The article pointed specifically to My Micro NY, a new prefab micro apartment by Narchitects that will come with kitchenettes, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, ceilings over nine feet high and big windows – all within the span of just 24 to 33sqm.
However, others believe that compact apartments could compromise amenity and living standards. An article by The Age in 2013 noted that studio flats as small as 15sqm on sale in Melbourne, each with a single small window and a kitchenette “the size of a broom cupboard”, would negatively impact residents’ quality of life.
“Often the bedrooms have no direct sunlight,” said RMIT planning professor, Michael Buxton. “Developers make money by such cramming but also by not providing car parking and other facilities. People who buy such small spaces don't live in them.”
Although the median size of one bedroom apartments in Australia has decreased from 52sqm to 44sqm in the last five years, states like NSW continue to have a restriction of 50sqm being the minimum area of an apartment. Pictured: A 15 square metre apartment in Leicester Street, Carlton. Image: The Age
While Australians are not yet lining up to live in matchbox sized apartments – a two-storey house with a backyard and double garage is the dream after all – smaller units that focus on efficient floor plans and making spaces work harder are undeniably a part of the future of higher density living.
As Nigel Hobart, principal of ROTHELOWMAN, once said to The Financial Review, a well-designed 40sqm apartment can have a greater amenity than a poorly designed 60sqm apartment.
Here are five international examples of micro apartments:
THE STUDIO BY NICHOLAS GURNEY, SYDNEY
This redesign of a 27sqm studio apartment in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo involves a clean aesthetic and bold colour that is wiped away with the slide of a panel. Recent graduate, designer Nicholas Gurney, stripped out the existing apartment and removed the ceiling bulkheads, before inserting a joinery pod to address issues of privacy, storage and a lack of living space – all with less than $40,000 and a four-week construction window.
“The brief from the client was fairly simple: ‘A liveable space and some flexibility would be great.’ I don’t think, at the time, she imagined anything like what I was going to give her,” Gurney told Australian Design Review .
“I really wanted to create as large a fluid space as possible, something that you would normally find in apartments of a much larger size.”
Photography by Katherine Lu
TINY APARTMENT BY KITOKO STUDIO, PARIS
This aptly named unit measures just 8sqm, and was formerly a maid room located on the top floor, under the roof of a building. Kitoko Studio describes the maid room as being characterised by their small size, with “rudimentary aesthetic interior spaces and common circulations difficult to access”.
Despite its size, this apartment had to be fully functional and allow its occupant to not only sleep, but also cook, eat, wash, work and store items. The architectural response was to implement the concept of the Swiss Army Knife, so that the new room has the elements of storage, a bed, table, wardrobe, staircase, kitchenette and bathroom – all fully integrated within a large closet that can be unfolded according to the needs and changes of its user.
Photography by Fabienne Delafraye
SALVA46 APARTMENT BY MIEL ARQUITECTOS AND STUDIO P10, BARCELONA
This 65sqm share unit consists of not one, but two functional, living, working and sleeping quarters. Featuring a straightforward layout with two private units pivoted by a central communal area, the apartment has high ceilings to allow small multi-purpose mezzanines to be constructed above beds. Large windows let in plenty of light, which travels to each bedroom through sliding translucent panels.
Salva 46 is our investigation into flexible co-existence,” said the architects, “focusing on the basic requirements of Sleep, Work, Relexation & Hygiene.”
“The balance of privacy: during the day each inhabitant can enclose and secure their space without blocking the traverse of natural light. While during the night, both can isolate and cocoon the units by sliding the solid doors.”
Photography by Asier Rua
DOMESTIC TRANSFORMER BY EDGE DESIGN INSTITUTE, HONG KONG
It took architect Gary Chang almost 30 years to finish his adaptable apartment in Hong Kong, but the end results see a 32sqm ‘open-plan’ apartment with the ability to be transformed into 24 different room lay outs.
Having lived in the apartment since he was 14, Chang created walls for the apartments that move on tracks to reveal everything from a large kitchen, to a guest bedroom, library, laundry room, and even a full spa.
Images: Home DSGN
SMARTSPACE BY LOWNEY ARCHITECTURE, SAN FRANCISCO
Although New York’s highly anticipated My Micro NY is expected to receive its first occupants by the end of the year, its west coast partner San Francisco is already ahead of the game.
The first prefabricated micro housing project in the United States opened in San Fran in 2013. Developed by Panoramic Interests and fabricated by local builder ZETA, SmartSpace SoMA is a complex of units each measuring approximately 27sqm, and completed with full kitchens and fold-out beds.
Narrow rooms with a wall-mounted TV over a computer workstation and a window seat with a hydraulic pop-up table are some of the elements, but developer Patrick Kennedy said high ceilings were key. Other innovations include an ottoman that opens to reveal a hollow interior, and a narrow loft over the bedroom.