Bloomberg Does Not Announce Design Competition for Tiny Apartments. It's a "Request for Proposals".

City of New York/Public Domain

I wish Mayor Michael Bloomberg had announced a " New “Micro-Unit” Apartment Design Competition" yesterday, like every website from Bustler to Core77 have been saying. It is a real challenge; look at what Graham Hill went through in his LifeEdited competition.

However if you read what Bloomberg actually says after he calls it a design competition, and what is written in the press release, it is not a design competition at all. It is what is known in the trade as a "request for proposals." The city is providing a site and will "waive certain zoning regulations" that set minimum size requirements. Specifically, (emphasis mine)

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will issue an RFP for the design, construction, and operation of a micro-unit rental building on a transit-oriented, City-owned site located at 335 East 27th Street in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan. At least 75 percent of the units in the building will be micro-units, which are expected to measure approximately 275 to 300 square feet. These efficient, self-contained units will include kitchens and bathrooms. The RFP design guidelines encourage the development of a mixed-use building with apartments that have substantial access to light and air to create a sense of openness. Responses will be judged on affordability and competitive land purchase price; innovative micro-unit layout and building design; and experience developing housing in New York City.

In other words, they are looking for experienced operators with deep pockets to pay a good price for the land, build a bunch of studio apartments and operate it. The architects and designers as usual will be minor annoyances.

In Europe, they would have the guts to have a real open design competition and then have a separate RFP to build and manage it. Design and innovation would come first, particularly since it is public land. Here it's all "teams" with "experience."

Bloomberg and Burton/Video screen capture

Responses to the RFP will demonstrate whether the micro-unit model is viable and can provide a suitable housing alternative. The pilot will help inform potential regulatory changes that could allow the as-of-right development of micro-units in appropriate locations.

C'mon, this is New York City. The only thing that has kept developers from building Tokyo size 12 mat apartments (216 square feet) is that the zoning bylaw didn't allow them; drop the minimum square footage requirements and developers will jump at the chance; they do everywhere else in the world. There will huge demand; according to Eric Klinenberg, NYU sociologist and author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone in the Village Voice,

It's hard not to be moved by the numbers: just a little under one in two Manhattan households are one person households....we haven't really come to terms with the fact that so many people in Manhattan are living alone and have their own needs as well.

There will also be unintended consequences; many will be snapped up by out-of -towners and rich people looking for pieds-à-terre in the City, sort of urban summer cottages. But it is a great idea, and it is something New York needs. Just don't call it a design competition.

Tags: Design Competitions | Less Is More | Living With Less | New York City