National Pandemic

Rethinking micro-apartments in the age of pandemic

Sorry, Yoda – size matters (for now)
By Constantine Valhouli  |  August 9, 2020 10:16 AM

Nakagin Capsule Tower via Wikimedia Commons

Not so long ago – even if it feels like a generation ago, now – micro-apartments had briefly become A Thing.

The quick summary: these were tiny (often under 400 sq.ft.) apartments that borrowed concepts from Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings and old European residential hotels (the kind that Fitzgerald and Hemingway stayed in before they were actually making money on their writing). Smaller apartments were offset by more building amenities, on the (reasonable) theory that residents wouldn't be spending so much time in their rooms. Screening rooms, gyms, pool tables, swimming pools, and rock climbing walls were among the usual amenities.

These offered an interesting alignment of interests between residents (more amenities in a new building for a price comparable to a dilapidated but larger studio in an older building) and developers (who could now shoehorn many more apartments into the same footprint, effectively goosing the returns considerably).

But there was one assumption that was key to micro-rentals. Residents were mostly just sleeping in their apartment. As the old saying goes, they weren't renting their apartment, they were renting access to the city. Which worked well – until the city (and the country. and the world) largely stopped functioning because of the effects of the pandemic.

A micro-apartment which had felt well-designed and efficient in 2019 now felt ... claustrophobic. Without the shift from a tiny space to the larger public spaces of gyms, subway stations, movie theaters, the concept felt a bit like prison. Especially when our days and nights are largely spent in the same room.

Studio apartments and micro-apartments were barely tolerable during good times, but feel like they belong in a different era during the time of the coronavirus.