Microunits Are Coming to NYC. See the Winning Style

In July 2012 New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development launched an adAPT NYC Contest to develop a building with microunits to a Whole Lot in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood. The competition was spurred by the shifting demographics of the city, which now has 1.8 million one- and low-income families (comprising over 20% of its 8.4 million taxpayers) but just 1 million one-bedroom and studio apartments. What’s more, the current zoning code limits the size of apartments and their density (number of units per lot), making it impossible to build modest units for singles and couples.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the winner of the competition Jan. 22 in the Introduction of the Museum of the City of New York’s Making Space exhibition, which also investigates small flats in the city through layout. A team made up of Monadnock Development, the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and nArchitects won with their Micro NY entrance. Here are details of this design.

This pilot project will be located on a city-owned lot that will be sold to the developer, and it will ignore current zoning restrictions on apartment size and density. In case the design proves effective after its intended 2015 realization, restrictions will probably be amended to permit smaller units and more of these on a given website.

The building is going to be 10 stories and will occupy what is now a parking lot at the corner of East 27th Street and Mount Carmel Place, between First and Second avenues. The layout by nArchitects is fairly slender, moving from a light brick facade on the street to a dark grey brick in the back of the building. A series of setbacks and subtle cantilevers responds to the town’s requisite zoning envelope. While the project can ignore two zoning restrictions, it must fulfill each other applicable zoning and building code, and follow other laws.

What may not be apparent from the outside rendering is that the project will be built of prefabricated modular units. This rendering gives an idea of the way that’ll work; each flat will occupy one module roughly the size of a delivery container.

The modules will be built by Capsys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and will basically “snap together,” as Nicholas Lembo of Monadnock Development describes it. Unlike the much larger towers in the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, that are also utilizing prefab modules, My Micro NY does not expect a structural framework for stacking the pieces. Other than the concrete foundation and structure required to frame the exceptionally transparent ground floor, the building is put together “such as Legos,” states Lembo.

My Micro NY will consist of 55 microunits, varying in size from 250 to 370 square feet, with rents starting at $940 a month. Shared spaces include a loft garden, a ground-floor porch, dens and a multipurpose lounge, as well as a laundry area, residential storage (a big bonus in NYC), a bicycle room and a fitness space. The ground floor will have a café and a mutlipurpose space for performances, lectures and other events.

Once I started to consider the plan of little spaces, in relation to a ideabook on San Francisco’s microunits, natural lighting was a big consideration. A long shoebox-size apartment might be effective for setting out a building, but it signifies the spaces most removed from the outside wall are dark. My Micro NY handles this through ceilings that are 9 feet, 10 inches and windows that are 9 feet high with glass-railed Juliette balconies for opening the apartments to the outdoors.

Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang of all nArchitects describe each unit in two parts: the Toolbox and the Canvas. The toolbox is made up of the bathroom, the kitchen and a long storage attic over both areas. Whereas those pieces are mended, the Canvas is a elastic (if modest) open space that can be configured nevertheless the residents see fit.

The kitchen and bathroom are efficiently planned spaces that still meet accessibility and other codes, however, the achievement of the Canvas will require some creativity with furnishings. Murphy beds, as an example, will certainly be a popular option. Using a ceiling height of almost 10 feet, sleeping lofts are also a chance.

This rendering of the interior of a unit gives a sense of those two components — Toolbox at right and Canvas as well as the flexibility of the space. If the storage has been transferred over the bathroom and kitchen, the more open space can be readily used for both entertaining and sleeping; the Murphy bed stored between the shelves on the back wall hints at that shift.

These apartments aren’t for families or pack rats. They are best for young people who wish to move to the city but not live with five roommates. They are also great and do not need as much space.

Ultimately they’re a means of making the city more accessible and affordable for people from all walks of life.

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