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Micro-Apartments: Making 160 Square Feet Livable in San Francisco

Overview of city fabric density, San Francisco, California.

California's smallest legal apartment lies in San Francisco's SOMA district just south of downtown. The 160 square foot SmartSpace apartment holds enough space for one person looking to practice minimal living. This urban dweller's dream is equipped with a sofa which folds out as a bed, sliding doors, resourceful storage, and a "smart bench" which transforms into a table for two or sleeping quarters for an inebriated comrade. After an MIT student gave a prototype a test run and a critique, adjustments were made to fixture placement and size. With these new adjustments, micro-units are starting to pave the way for alternative housing options in the densely populated San Francisco area.

San Francisco is plagued by a housing crisis. There are too many people wanting to live in the city and not enough space to hold the growing population. As a result, rent prices have reached the highest in the nation, gentrification is causing tension in deep rooted neighborhoods, and people are being pushed across the bay to Oakland. Housing projects are going up around the city, but they are directed towards tech company workers rather than people in need of more affordable housing.

SmartSpace Micro-dwelling apartments, San Francisco, California.

These micro-dwellings are priced fairly high at $1,600 per month, but this is still lower than the average $2,100 per month for a studio in the city. The first set of 295 square foot micro-apartments were claimed by The California College of the Arts for student housing. These minimal spaces could be the start to micro-communities, and, along with the Dogpatch community, could be San Francisco's revival of the creatively inclined.

Looking to other cities around the world with similar urban conditions and housing needs, Japan stands out with its innovative housing design. In extremely dense urban setting such as Tokyo, micro-dwellings are essential for living in the city. Similar in concept to San Francisco's micro-dwellings, these apartments are designed with pure functionality in mind. Not an inch in space is untouched. Beds and furniture fold out from walls. Entire functioning kitchens pop out from behind bookshelves. The spatial possibilities are endless in these flexible and compact spaces. For those who prefer a house without having to travel to the outer suburbs, "urban infill" homes are a unique alternative. Unused land is used as sites for these micro-homes. Lots are small and defined by the surrounding structures. Lots can exist in the 10 foot gaps between high-rises to the sharp corners of residential streets. Site dictates form with these micro-homes, often resulting in whimsical shapes and unique, yet functional, spaces.

SmartSpace Micro-apartment facade, San Francisco, California.

These Japanese micro-dwellings are a unique design approach for a city aiming to accommodate a growing population without adding to the city fringe. Faced with similar dense urban conditions, San Francisco could take an example from the Japanese approach. Granted, strict zoning and height regulations are not the most versatile in the city, but the pockets of micro-apartments which are continuing to pop up could hold potential for easing San Francisco's housing crisis.

Could micro-dwellings be the answer to additional housing in an already densely populated city? What other examples can we take from the Japanese approach to living space?

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.