Si la jeunesse savait, si la vieillesse pouvait. Loosely translated to “if youth only knew, if elders only could”…. the world would be a different place. Wiser words are hard to come by.
In the case of the Designing tomorrow’s home exhibit at the New York Institute of Design, students came up with ideas on how to solve housing ills. We all start off with an illusion that the world can be a better place but over time temper that enthusiasm with the passing years. As someone who is somewhere in between a “young kid” and an “elder” I am going to act as seasoned veterans and will critique these proposals: i will take a shot at them if they not practical, cannot be implemented or simply because I didn’t come up with the idea first! 🙂
The medium-sized exhibit has approximately 10 student proposals that, broadly speaking, can be divided into 3 categories: a) unique living solutions, b) underwater/underground living and c) affordable housing.
Unique living solutions include ideas for portable homes that can be transported via air or ground or home pods that can be located below bridges; underwater/underground living include floating homes, underground capsules that are released and can travel to a docking station so the inhabitants can “come up for air” and, lastly, affordable housing looks at ways to make apartments smaller, more efficient or proposes housing arrangements where occupants share resources.
I view unique living solutions as a solution that mankind might need in a century or so from now. Why would anyone want to live under a bridge with the mind-numbing noise and vibrations of cars passing over you. Maybe in a century or so we may develop the technology to resolve these problem but we are not there yet. NOT PRACTICAL.
Similarly underwater/Underground living may need half a century before being implemented because we don’t have the technology to light a room with natural light that will generate the necessary vitamins for our body to survive and we don’t have a practical way to generate oxygen. NASA can keep astronauts alive for weeks and months on end but the technology is not cheap or readily enough for widespread use. I believe that technology may come faster if mankind suffers a natural or man-made catastrophe and is forced to use this as a means for survival. DOABLE BUT UNLIKELY.
Finally affordable housing is a problem vexing everyone including apartment users, developers, national and local governments, land and city planners in metropolis the world over. More than half the world’s population will be moving from a suburban or rural to an urban area by 2050 and cities are simply not prepared to receive them.
Students proposed solutions that range from simply living in smaller quarters, to creating apartments for families that, for example, have a water closet separated from the shower and vanity so two people can be occupying the spaces simultaneously; to spaces that change uses during the day as you transition from breakfast to office to dining room to sleeping quarters.
Students also came up with solutions to make kitchens more efficient by turning storage cabinets into places used for food preparation, interactive surfaces that act as a stove, scale, cookbook, and food prep aid; all in an attempt to minimize the space used.
Now here come the grouchy old man with the graying hair: while I’ve always look for ways to make residential units more affordable these student projects need a lot of external factors to change in order to begin to think about implementing these proposals. I covered some of these in my post about Carmel Place, the micro apartment in Manhattan.
The most impactful are NYC Department of Buildings code (DOB) , America with Disabilities Act (ADA) and zoning. DOB prohibits any apartment with less than 400 SF (one proposed apartment was approx. 200 SF). Bedrooms cannot be smaller than 80 SF and have to have a window for natural light (how could you build under water where there is no natural light?). Per ADA requirements, minimum bathroom dimensions to accommodate someone in a wheelchair is 5 ft * 7 ft. Some student proposals fit a bathroom in half that space in which someone in a wheelchair could neither access the shower or sink nor do they have the necessary turn radius to enter and exit the bathroom.
Lastly, zoning incentivizes developers to build apartments with ceiling heights of less than 10 feet. One proposal had mezzanine bedrooms that can only fit if an apartment has at least 12 foot ceilings. Mezzanines allow to squeeze more space into the same footprint but you need the height – and higher buildings cost less than wider buildings.
Mezzanine 1 1/2 bedroom apartment with a non-ADA bathroom (estimated at 350 SF)
Picture of a mezzanine 1 bedroom apartment
Overall this exhibit was a good place for someone looking for fresh ideas but you have to approach it with an open mind. My hope is that regulators come to see these proposals, agree to make pilot projects and learn from them it would be a step in the right direction in ameliorating the affordable housing shortage that currently exist.