Design constraints can breed invention. Few have tested this thesis more fully, perhaps, than architects Specht Harpman, who have transformed a dreary 425-square-foot New York apartment into a deceptively large and airy pied-à-terre.
The project was something of a "dream project," co-principal Scott Specht confesses—an unsurprising admission if, that is, you know architects. Early modernists like Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius devoted screeds to the material (and even spiritual) benefits of compartment living. The efficiency of, say, a ship’s cabin, where everything is within arm’s reach and discretely tucked away, engendered a disciplined and thus more productive lifestyle that had the cultivation of one’s self as its goal. Such ideas underpinned some of Modernism’s greatest achievements, and the opportunity to realize some of these same theories is undeniably attractive to any ambitious designer.
Flash forward to today’s contemporary debates on urbanism, where micro living is a hot button issue among city planners, officials, and the public at large. Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg announced the winning design for his administration’s much-sensationalized—and polarizing—AdAPT campaign, which solicited designs from architects for the future of dense, affordable housing in Manhattan. But rather than harping on about the machine-like efficiency of living small, proponents of micro-apartments like Bloomberg hinge their arguments on demographics shifts and property forecasts.
None of this is lost on the architects. "Micro living is very hot right now," Specht tells Co. Design, "but it’s not something appropriate for everyone or for every city." That’s not to deny the importance of exploring the spatial potential of the new typology, which Specht thinks could alleviate the ills "of the over-inflated ethos of the past couple of decades." One look at the Manhattan Micro Loft, and it’s hard to not agree with the man.
The secret to the design’s spacious interiors? Well, not surprisingly, it’s the abundance of vertical space, a luxury that the architects had to fight to preserve. The clients had wanted to maximize square footage, i.e., minimize height space that would allow floors to be floated in, resulting in what Specht calls a "pancake" apartment. With the help of convincing 3-D visualizations, which depicted a cut-away model of the bespoke unit, the designers won the owners over.
Several space-saving techniques were employed by the architects to shape the loft’s sequence of "rooms." The kitchen and bathroom are shoved to opposite ends of the entrance vestibule, while the living room is raised on a small platform, ever so slightly variegating the spatial promenade and thereby giving the impression of a much larger apartment. The bed, which once ate up a considerable amount of the main floor, is raised and cantilevered overhead, freeing up the living room from clutter and, more crucially, the triple-height attic space above it. Mount the stairs to the floating bed nook, which contains small seating and changing areas, before ascending to the unit’s peak: a narrow, but generous plot of lawn. The two staircases, erstwhile space invaders, were converted into functional armoirs—following the Japanese model of kaidan dansu, Specht says—providing the inhabitant with plenty of storage space.
Needless to say, the design is packed full of surprises. If you’re wondering how good life can be in a couple hundred square feet, the Manhattan Micro Loft answers: pretty good.