What Can Other Cities Teach New York About Micro-apartments?

Images courtesy ADD Inc.


Building: Innovation Units, location TBD
Price: Not yet determined
Size: 250-350 sq feet

A year before Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the winning design for New York micro units, Boston’s Mayor Menino praised a 300-square-foot model apartment called an “Innovation Unit,” intended to bring more young residents to the up-and-coming waterfront district. Designed by ADD Inc, the units drew controversy almost immediately. Initial estimates priced the micro units at $1200-$1600 per month, out of range for many Bostonians. However, Quinton Kerns, designer at ADD, thinks that micro units can be an affordable and effective solution to housing a diversity of people in a dense city environment. He hopes to see a new crop of Innovation Units that are priced under $900/month, have access to public transit, and attract senior citizens and empty nesters in addition to young professionals.

Unlike many of the proposed micro-apartments in other cities, Kerns’ design doesn’t have fancy finishings that drive up the price. He has proposed concrete floors and ceilings, and rough finishes on cabinets. The new Innovation Units are strictly BYO furniture. Kerns says that Murphy beds are expensive to replace when broken, and that most prospective tenants don’t like them. His design offers “more flexibility” for the tenant than the proposed New York design.

To save even more space, Kerns has proposed that residents might have a common kitchen or even common bathrooms. For Boston’s 250,000 students, this could be “a stepping stone for the next part of life.” But for those of us who are over group showers? Kerns acknowledges that most people don’t want to give up their own bathrooms, so the current micro-unit design still has a tiny bathroom and kitchen. Kerns says that the focus shouldn’t be on the unit itself, but the community that is created when residents leave their individual apartments and interact “on hallways, in elevators.” As a Bostonian for the last 5 years, that seems like a tall order in a notoriously unfriendly city.

Of all the architects I spoke to, Kerns was the only one hoping to actually live in his own design. He likes having just enough space for “clothes and the essentials, close to where the action is.” Will anyone join him? “People are realizing space is limited,” Kerns says, and maybe the dream of living in an enormous home “isn’t everything we wanted it to be.”