Trial of 220 square foot apartments moves forward in San Francisco

A trial run of “micro-apartments” has been approved in San Francisco:

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors tentatively approved Tuesday a trial run of 220-square-foot “micro-apartments” — carefully designed compact living spaces that have become all the rage in urban development. Pending ratification and mayoral approval next month, the plan beats, in smallness, Vancouver’s 226-square-foot “micro-lofts,” and make the 275-square-foot units under trial in New York look like airplane hangars…

Depending on your perspective, the tiny living spaces are either a much-needed option for single people crushed by climbing rents, or community-destroying crash pads for young techie weekenders. Either way, the competition is fierce for creative floor-plan designs that do more with much, much less. The San Francisco measure requires of a minimum of 150 square feet of living space, plus a bathroom and kitchen, though the kitchen can be integrated into the living area. The trial approves 375 units total.

For a clue to what the micro-apartments will look like, Wired toured San Francisco’s new “SmartSpace” micro-apartment complex, which was unveiled last week by developer Patrick Kennedy — an advocate for the new, smaller limits. SmartSpace crams 23 units into its footprint, each 285 to 310 square feet. The floor plan is similar to the even smaller units Kennedy plans to build now that the new measure has passed, he says.

SmartSpace contains narrow rooms with a bathroom at the front, a wall-mounted TV over a computer workstation, and a window seat with a hydraulic pop-up table. (They call it “SmartBench.”) In some units, a fold-up bed reveals an integrated dining table. A closet near the bathroom was designed to hold a washer and dryer and some appliances, including a small convection oven. There’s a dishwasher, but no oven under the small, two-burner electric stove. High ceilings, says Kennedy, were key, noting that they had a grad student live in a 160-square-foot prototype in Berkeley, and made some significant design changes based on her input.

It is interesting to note the opposition these apartments have faced in San Francisco. It sounds like there are a few issues: do the units meet some basic requirements for living space, how will they affect the affordable housing market (and who will end up living in the micro-apartments), and where these units will be located and how the residents will interact with the surrounding community. But, if this size of apartment has worked in other cities, why couldn’t San Francisco look at the best examples and set tough regulations?

Also, I was struck in looking at these plans that more space could be created by transforming the unit more. For example, the small spaces in the IKEA showrooms tend to have a loft bed so it frees up more space. Or other small apartments utilize moving walls or space at a slight step-up. These particular plans look more like traditional apartments that have simply been shrunk to the bare essentials although this may be a function of cost.

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