Impact's 2022 Micro Housing Competition Spotlights Innovative Ideas

As usual, the runners up are more interesting than the winner.

Smith entry
"Occupy the Streets" by Henry Smith of the U.S. is the winner of the Impact competition.

Henry Smith / Impact

Anyone who has ever worked in architecture knows how long it takes to complete competition entries. Anyone who ever did an architectural rendering, particularly before the computer era, knows how long a rendering used to take. That's why competitions like those sponsored by Impact are so impressive.

Impact is "a platform for architectural design competitions that engage with young architects and innovators" and its "competitions aim to delve into some of the most relevant concerns of our planet with the intent of generating design-based conversations and solutions." The most recent competition was Micro Housing 2022:

"Designers from all over the world were invited to come up with innovative, experimental architectural ideas that would shock the current housing market and promote a sense of community living. A higher standard of living for the users must be improved by the design. It should be very practical and aesthetically appealing as well."

The competition has an interesting panel of judges, and as often happens, I disagree with the choice of winner, which is probably why I am never asked back a second time whenever I served on a jury.

Occupy the Streets

Section through building
Section.

Henry Smith / Impact

Take the winning scheme here, "Occupy the Streets" by Henry Smith of the United States. He is addressing a shortage of housing in Salt Lake City, Utah where because of "an influx of wealth, coupled with high demand, the daily hard workers and budding artists that make a city great are being dispelled."

Section through building
Section.

Henry Smith / IMPACT

"The bold proposition is to not use 'land' at all. The city has 130 overly-wide streets. The design intention is to utilize a wide median sidewalk intended for parking for an elevated micro-housing project in conjunction with a linear public garden refuge positioned above the street. There exists an over-abundance of wasted area that could inventively and while simultaneously contributing social equity via green space. With no cost of conventional land this concept could be replicated throughout the urban context. Previous Inhabitants could flock back and, again, occupy their streets and city."

portion of site plan
Site Plan.

Henry Smith / IMPACT

This is a good idea, but not a new one. As was noted in the Architects Newsletter in 2016, "To say Salt Lake City’s roads are incredibly wide is an understatement. Initially, this width was derived from former Mormon Governor of the Utah territory who stipulated that a team of oxen and their cart should be able to turn around in the street."

They were describing an earlier proposal to build in the middle of the road, and they didn't put it 17 feet up in the air to preserve the at-grade parking, a significant added cost. For no good reason that I can tell, Smith also designs the units as a split-level, which limits the occupancy to fully abled people, but that seems to be a problem with many of the entries.

Pier House

Pier House
Pier House.

Lenny Lee Liang Lew and Lim Jian Jun

There are many things to admire in the second prize won by Lenny Lee Liang Lew and Lim Jian Jun of the United Kingdom.

"The Pier House unfolds the potential of repurposing urban derelicts and abandoned piers area opportunity for inventing micro homes. The proposal seeks to reconcile and to reanimate the abandoned pier structures across River Thames with integration of public realms and residential programs to meet new housing needs in the dense urban context of London. The ThePier House's strategy can be deployed across London's waterways and Thames River as a sustainable housing solution with ecological enhancement to the nature."
Section through pier house

Lenny Lee Liang Lew and Lim Jian Jun

I really love the sepia-toned drawings and the mixing of uses.

underfloor storage

Lenny Lee Liang Lew and Lim Jian Jun

I love how there is underfloor storage built into the curved boat-hull sections, carefully labeled with bikes and books and garden tools. I don't love how you get to the second floor by ladder. Even fully-abled people will find this problematic and dangerous. I complain about this with every tiny home with a loft: you do not want to have to climb down a ladder in the middle of the night when you have to pee.

Micro Tower

Micro Tower

Stefanie Huenitzsch, Thomas Blachut, and Zoe Beccard

As so often happens in these competitions, I find the honorable mentions to be more interesting and provocative than the winners. I like this Micro Tower by Stefanie Huenitzsch, Thomas Blachut, and Zoe Beccard of Germany because it addresses a real problem: How do you deal with tiny sites?

Unit plans
Unit Plans.

Stefanie Huenitzsch, Thomas Blachut, and Zoe Beccard

I am not usually doctrinaire about every unit being fully accessible; it takes a lot of space. But here, each 350-square-foot unit is shared by four people, who each have a loft bed accessible by a ladder. Designs like these put people with even the most moderate disabilities or those who are older (or even those who are a bit tipsy) in dangerous situations. The elevator on the mid-landing doesn't help either.

Micro tower rendering
Micro Tower balcony.

Stefanie Huenitzsch, Thomas Blachut, and Zoe Beccard

Perhaps if they had not designed it with double-height spaces, they could have provided more units without lofts, and it would have been a lot more useful and accessible to more people. But then it would just be a normal apartment building and probably wouldn't have won an honorable mention.

Living in Coexistence with the Seagram Building

Seagram tower
Living in Coexistence with the Seagram Building.

Sang Yun Lee and Yusuk Kim

Then there are the totally wild, imaginative schemes that excite me, such as this one from Sang Yun Lee and Yusuk Kim of South Korea. Here, the designers note that office buildings are outdated but that many people are living alone and are desperate for accommodation. So they take one of the most important and iconic office buildings in the world, the Seagram Building designed by German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and cover it up with scaffolding and housing units that run up and down elevator cores.

details
details.

Sang Yun Lee and Yusuk Kim

These are basically mobile bedrooms; you zip up and down the building face to get to the amenity you need.

Floor plans

Sang Yun Lee and Yusuk Kim

Whether it is the Amenity Floor with restaurants and barber shop, the Leisure Floor with pool, squash courts, and gym; the Social Floor, with its bar, dance floor, circus, and Rodeo, or the boring old office floor.

Gravestone, Mies van der Roh

Santi Visalli, Getty Images

Mies Van der Rohe once wrote that "architecture is the will of the age conceived in spatial terms." What would he say if he saw one of his most important buildings adapting to the will of the age? Would he admire its cleverness and the honesty in its use of materials and technology or would he be spinning in his Miesian grave?

Dozens more to see at IMPACT.