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Making Room

Making Room, an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, celebrates our growing citywide fascination with living small.
The use of wall space is maximized to keep clutter from the floor and allow for an open feeling. Micro-unit LaunchPad. Clei s.r.l/Resource Furniture; Designed by Pierluigi Colombo and architecture by Amie Gross Architects. Photography by John Halpern. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Living Small in the Big City

In a metropolis where space is at a premium and ideal apartments aren't so much a dime a dozen as a hefty first and last month's rent plus deposit, many of us make do with what we can get. The exhibition, organized by MCNY’s Curator of Architecture and Design Donald Albrecht and Andrea Renner, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow, shows the strides the city is making toward solving this problem and offers takeaways for small-homed New Yorkers to try in their current shoebox-sized living spaces. The exhibit is aptly contained to one gallery in the recently opened third floor of the museum and, like the plans contained within it, manages to hold more than meets the eye.

After Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC report announced the city expected an increase of nearly one million residents by 2030, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council realized the needs of the growing population wouldn’t be met by the current housing supply. With nearly 46% of households comprised of single people, the market for studio and one-bedroom apartments exceeds the supply. In 2011, the CHPC and Architectural League of New York put out a call to architects and designers to create proposals for housing to accommodate the disparity. The resulting models from Ted Smith, Deborah Gans, Stan Allen & Rafi Segal, and a team led by Jonathan Kirschenfeld are on view and provide varied solutions, ranging from micro-lofts, bungalow additions in Queens, and closure of the Grand Concourse so it might serve as a shared living room of sorts.

This summer, Mayor Bloomberg issued a call for more of such plans through the adAPT competition. Of the 33 entries, a jury of architect world standouts including critic Paul Goldberger and architects Bjarke Ingels and Maya Lin, selected My Micro NY by Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and nARCHITECTS. The winning team’s plan will be developed in Kip’s Bay and serve as a guinea pig for revision of out-of-date building codes, such as a 1987 regulation requiring all new apartments to be a minimum of 400 square feet. In addition to pioneering policy change, the building is also the first modular multi-family construction in Manhattan to utilize prefab. The project will break ground by the end of this year to allow tenants to begin moving into the rent-stabilized apartments by September 2015.

One can really make oneself at home in the exhibit as Clei and Resource Furniture constructed a 325-square-foot model apartment within the gallery. Designed by Pierluigi Colombo with architecture by Amie Gross Architects the open floor plan is a vast upgrade from your typical 400-square-foot studio with kitchenette. A staggered footprint creates a feeling of spaciousness and separates clearly delineated kitchen and bathroom areas from the interchangeable living/sleeping/work area. The micro-unit even includes a highly coveted terrace space and (gasp!) dishwasher. These amenities are complemented by flexible use pieces from Resource Furniture including a coffee table-cum-stool set for entertaining.

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