An oft-heard critique of urban micro-housing is that it won't work in the long run: it's too cramped, encourages isolation and isn't flexible enough when singles become couples or families. It's a valid debate that's emerging as rapidly growing cities are running out of affordable housing stock, whether for renters or for first-time owners. But there are studied indications that people are willing to trade in some space if the location is right, and the rent is significantly lower, and good design appears to be the determining factor whether these micro-apartments are coffin boxes or real places to live.
But perhaps it might work better too if the units are designed to be more communal in nature -- more like a dormitory residence with shared spaces, rather than strictly separate. That's the aim of Korean architects Jinhee Park and John Hong of SsD Architecture in their Songpa Micro-housing project in Seoul -- to create a new kind of micro-housing where the limits of private and public blur and overlap, and to encourage a micro-neighbourhood of sorts.
By mining the discrepancy between maximum floor area ratios and maximum zoning envelopes, Songpa Micro-Housing provides a new typology that extends the limits of the housing unit to also include semi-public circulation, balconies, and the thickness of walls. Like the ambiguous gel around a tapioca pearl, this ‘Tapioca Space’ becomes a soft intersection between public/private and interior/exterior, creating social fabrics between neighbors.
Fourteen 120-square-foot "unit blocks" can be occupied as a space for a single person, or can be combined into larger 240-square-foot blocks for couples or friends who would like to live together. Inside, the units have space-maximizing transformer features, and clerestory windows for light, which also lend the impression of a higher ceiling.
The semi-public "Tapioca Spaces" are also expressed as connecting bridges, which are also another way that units can be linked.
Certainly, one has to take into account the cultural context to gauge a project's potential success, but the design does present some smart ideas about how to solve some of the problems associated with micro-housing that could also be modified and applied in a North American context. As the cost of living increases, smaller living spaces are becoming more common in cities, so perhaps the best way to get around the problems of "too small" is to share a few spaces, without sacrificing too much privacy or having to live with roommates forever. More over at SsD Architecture.