But what if people on a budget could find budget-sized apartments to match? That’s the premise of the new show at the Museum of the City of New York, Making Room: New Models for Housing for New Yorkers. On view through September 15, the exhibition imagines junking a few longstanding regulatory bars to help create modestly-sized, more flexible residences that reflect the way urbanites live now.
Also included in the show—and perhaps its most appealing feature—is the LaunchPad, a demonstration apartment created by Italian interior designer Pierluigi Colombo of firm Clei in collaboration with New York-based Amie Gross Architects. At 325 square feet, the L-shaped room occupying the center of the gallery is tricked out with a suite of clever items from Resource Furniture that turn it into an inhabitable Swiss Army knife. Almost everything folds out of something to become something else, from the shelf that turns into a bed to the chair that turns into a step ladder. The space is as homey as it is ingenious, though it is by no means clear what it would cost to actually furnish it as displayed.
Of the concepts presented in the “Design Challenge” section, the real standout is “Block/Tower,” the contribution from architects Stan Allen and Rafi Segal. The proposal is less distinguished for what it does than what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t entail much new construction, but rather the adaptive reuse of existing commercial office towers—with which the city has long been glutted—retooled as residential high-rises. Where cubicles once reigned, the architects imagine a rich array of recreational and mixed live-work spaces. Best of all, perhaps, the architects would do away with the wasted space at the base of so many commercial skyscrapers, filling them in with what they term “Urban Cabins,” clusters of small apartments laid out around innovative common spaces.
Making Room does suffer a bit from its own smallness, and the other proposals sometimes seem a bit cramped conceptually and less than fleshed-out visually. (Likewise there be seem to be a couple of obvious curatorial oversights—a video on a Japanese project plays on a loop under a piece of wall text reading “Hong Kong.”) The intrinsic difficulty of thinking big about getting small is amply demonstrated in a project that receives a brief treatment in the show: adAPT NYC, a new project being constructed at the behest of Mayor Bloomberg on Manhattan’s East Side that actually realizes the premise of Making Room, with apartments ranging from 250-350 square feet. As evident in the renderings, the residences will be adequate but fairly uninspired, lacking as they will the gee-whiz fixtures seen in the LaunchPad.
Whatever the disappoints of the design, however, they may matter little in the end to the lucky residents who will finally be getting an apartment of their own, however small it may be.