MIT's CityHome Is A House In A Box You Control By Waving Your Hand

Think 200 square feet is too small to live in? MIT Media Lab might persuade you otherwise.

Two hundred square feet. It’s horrifyingly small, even by New York standards. But a new project called CityHome, by MIT Media Lab’s Changing Places group, can make it feel like you're living in an apartment three times as big.

CityHome is essentially a hideaway bed taken to the upteenth level. It’s a mechanical box about the size of a closet that sits inside an apartment, where it stows a bed, dining room table, kitchen surface, a cooking range, a closet, and multipurpose storage, too. Through gestures, touch, and voice control, each element can be called forth from the cube. Internal motors eject each piece with the convenient fluidity of a power window. And, in a final trick, the entire module can move a few feet each way, extending or compressing a room at will. (If you’re not in the bathroom, do you need the space to use the shower, or would that square footage be better served in the living room or kitchen?)

"This would work well in the 30 to 40 Innovation Cities where young people are priced out of the market," lead researcher Kent Larson explains. "At $1,000 per square foot in Boston, the extra cost of technology is trivial compared to space saved for a furnished apartment." In other words, you could drop a CityHome box into a very tiny apartment that meets your budget and make that space infinitely more livable without breaking your bank.

Larson assures us that CityHome isn’t just a concept, but a viable product, and he intends to bring it to market through either a startup or a commercial sponsor. And while it certainly seems like a promising solution to stretch a closet into a small apartment, CityHome seems even more attractive as a way to stretch any small apartment into a slightly more livable one.

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7 Comments

  • ya_ling@yahoo.com

    Hey, I want it to be transparent. I don't want to see the big white box. I still want to be able to see the painting on the wall, or the light from the window behind the big box.

    Ya-Ling Chang

  • Kristina Pifer

    i think the premise they are challenging -- the underlying assumption about space use -- is compelling. home design is based on the existing limitation that spaces, once constructed, cannot be easily modified for alternative use.

    it would be interesting to do a time-lasped heat map study of space occupation/use to see where/how we spend most of our time. i'm sure we'd find that much of the sq ft sits mostly idle.

    but the challenge to re-configurable space design, IMHO, is also a perception that re-usability or re-configuration results in an experience that feels a little cheap. it feels to people like being in an RV.

    homes are just as much about emotion and ego as they are about functional use. they are reflections of people's aesthetic and a projection, not only to others, but back to themselves.

    adopting any iteration of configureable homes will likely require not only successfully tackling the logistical/technical issues, but the emotional/perceptional as well.

  • Nicholas Cochrane

    The largest problem with all of these "micro apartment ideas" (and there have been many prior to this) is that they all require a base cube to start with. Most apartments I have been in are not cubes, nor are they close. Often you have strange hallways leading to small rooms that are cut off from a bathroom or such.

    I suppose one could argue that you could gut the entire apartment, install custom furnishings and live quite comfortably in such a small space. That said I don't see any landlord letting that happen to a rented apartment and who would want to invest the cash? Possibly an idea for a condo but thats about it.

    I think this concept is an interesting one and I hope to see that idea expanded upon in other micro apartment setups. However, I don't think its anywhere ready for primetime.