Deborah Schneiderman, professor of interior design in Pratt Institute’s School of Design and principal at deSc Architecture/Design/Research, shares background and insights on micro housing design, giving context to the recent news that the modules for Carmel Place, New York City’s first micro-housing complex, are fully stacked as the project moves ahead with completion expected by the end of 2015.

1. Why is there so much interest in micro-apartment living now?

Within cities, micro housing has been popularized because it allows people to potentially live close to a city center at an affordable cost. Additionally, some choose the micro-housing lifestyle as a sustainable strategy taking up a small footprint, accumulating fewer belongings, and requiring less use of utilities for thermal comfort.

2. How have designers tackled the challenges of designing for micro apartments?

Typically, there is a spatial and social trade-off to the small dwelling unit; often micro-housing complexes include shared community spaces that not only provide relief from the compact dwelling, but also an opportunity for the residents to meet their neighbors and socialize. Design strategies for the individual unit include foldaway and convertible furnishing elements, including beds, tables, and seating; maximizing storage above rooms with lower ceiling heights like the kitchen and bathroom, as well as below or inside of furniture.

3. Do you see room for further innovation in small space design? 

I am interested in strategies that consider alternative adaptive reuse—for example, a parking garage, which has the possibility of being fully or partially converted. With more recent strategies to eliminate personal car ownership through the promotion of better biking conditions, car sharing, and better public transportation, the need for parking garages is diminishing. The parking garage as a site is incredibly interesting as it is based on a relatively regular module—135 square feet, which is an ideal size for a prefabricated micro dwelling. It is at once both interior and exterior space, providing a unique palette for shared community spaces.