News Home & Design Architects Transform Dated Micro-Apartment Into Experimental Residence Conventional walls are eliminated to create a fluid space for living. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Updated September 23, 2021 12:33PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Maru Serrano News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive More and more people are understanding the importance of rehabilitating existing housing stock in older cities—not only is it more sustainable, but it also gives architects and designers some interesting design problems to solve. In Madrid, Spain, local architecture firm BURR Studio (formerly Taller de Casquería) revamped a small apartment dating back to the 1970s with an experimental scheme. Situated in a housing block on Joan Margall Street (named after the Spanish politician), the JM55 apartment's previous layout was compartmentalized into two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen, making it feel much smaller than necessary for its footprint of 430 square feet (40 square meters). To start, the architects made way for a clean slate by doing away with most of the partitions, leaving space for a new open plan layout. The elimination of walls means that the space becomes more flexible and adaptable, thanks to the addition of more ephemeral fabric partitions instead. The designers explain their wall-busting rationale: "The independent rooms strictly complied with the necessary functional minimums, reducing each one’s potential size. The proposed transformation is radically opposed to this principle, dismantling the divisions between spaces and dissolving the limits of the uses associated with each of them." The only space that now has walls is a central core housing more private functions like the toilet and shower. Covered completely in simple square white tiles and grouted in black, this space-saving strategy of condensing functions into one compact block is one that we've seen used to good effect many times before. Maru Serrano The tiled surfaces of this central block seem to bleed beyond the strict boundaries of the main core, expanding out to define other potentially "wet" areas like the kitchen. Maru Serrano The tiled area also encapsulates the two sinks on either side of the block. One of these sinks is a smaller metal specimen, while the other larger one is porcelain. Built-in nooks serve as places to store various bric-a-brac, while other accessories have been installed to augment storage. Maru Serrano Beyond this core, the spatial distinctions are less clear, and intentionally so; the designers have an interesting way of articulating this spatial fluidity: "The rest of [the] materials, uses and rooms merge and contaminate each other, so that the tenants sleep in the bathroom as well as they shower in the living room." Maru Serrano It seems a bit tongue in cheek, but the idea here is to have some functions overlap with each other so that there is no need for partitions. While this may seem like a less-than-ideal situation in a space as compact as this, the architects nevertheless note that there is another layer to the design strategy to balance these uncertainties out: "As an opposite strategy, rails included in the ceilings draw the blueprint of a totally different space, closed by curtains of different materials that give shelter or privacy to the proposed uses. A curtain of quilts surrounds the space where the bed is located while a folded felt curtain creates an independent study capsule." These textile partitions -- created in collaboration with designer Rubén Gómez -- help to close off spaces only when it's needed. As a result, the overall space becomes an adaptable canvas of sorts, where the inhabitants can change it according to whatever tasks need to be accomplished. While curtains may not be a soundproof solution, curtains are a quick and cost-effective alternative to walls, and can also be used to hide visual clutter. Maru Serrano We like how the "curtain of quilts" is subtly echoed in the quilt on the bed, and how it contrasts with the solid wall of full-height storage cabinets, constructed out of pale-colored wood. Maru Serrano In contrast, the custom curtain surrounding the study space is made out of accordion-like felt strips. Maru Serrano Using a simple palette of materials and some bold design moves, this redesigned apartment achieves what it initially set out to do: to bring in light, and to establish a wall-free space that can nimbly adapt to the demands of the present moment. To see more, visit BURR Studio and Instagram.