‘Making Room’ for innovation

Photographs by Bob Rozycki 

For anyone who’s ever dreamed of living large in Manhattan, the Museum of the City of New York suggests a decidedly different approach.

Its newest exhibition is all about innovative ways to make the most of your space – small space, that is.

“Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers” (through Sept. 15) is a timely glimpse into the future of residential life in the city, looking at housing trends that will affect city dwellers ranging from the young professional just starting out to the retired suburban couple looking to reconnect with the city and its cultural attractions.

While many of the exhibits at the museum are historical in nature, the museum also prides itself on looking ahead, says Donald Albrecht. The museum’s curator of architecture and design, Albrecht organized the show with Andrea Renner, the Andrew W. Mellon post-doctoral curatorial fellow at the museum.

“It’s about change,” he says of the exhibit, a co-presentation of the museum and the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC). “It’s about how architecture can accommodate change.”

The spotlight is on design solutions for the city’s changing demographics, which include a growing number of singles. New housing options for the 21st century include shared space for single adults and modified homes for extended families. Today it is estimated that 15 percent of the city’s population is made up of couples with no children, while 33 percent consists of single people living alone.

The exhibition originated with the launch of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s report that projected an increase of 1 million residents by 2030. CHPC then began to examine how the current population is being served and found that the available housing did not always match up with needs.

The exhibition, Albrecht says, is a response to these very real concerns about housing this new population.

“The question is ‘Where will we make room for them?’”

“Making Room,” he says, is set up in a most logical of ways. The opening area is a multimedia section that lays out the facts and figures.

“This is the problem and that is the solution,” Albrecht says, pointing to how the remainder of the exhibition offers suggestions.

Visitors will also see models and drawings of housing designs by architectural teams commissioned by the CHPC when it partnered with the Architectural League of New York in 2011. The exhibition further features winning designs from the Bloomberg administration’s new pilot competition to test new housing models. The adAPT competition invited developer/architect teams to design a building of micro-units for smaller households (one to two people). The winning submission is being developed at a site on East 27th Street.

Rounding things out are examples from other cities across the nation, including Seattle and San Diego, as well as international cities such as Tokyo.

But the centerpiece of the exhibition – and the feature garnering the most attention so far – is a fully furnished micro-studio apartment. At just 325 square feet – a size that falls below current regulations for most of the city today – the apartment is a study in creativity.

“It’s kind of a prototype of the kind of things you could live with,” Albrecht says, pointing out space-saving standbys such as a Murphy bed and a secretary-style desk that folds open for use.

“They’re very fancy versions,” he says with a smile.

The unit was designed and furnished by Clei s.r.l. and Resource Furniture, with architecture by Amie Gross Architects.

“We wanted to give people the experience of what we call a micro unit,” Albrecht says.

And it is quite an experience, even though the mission here is to educate, not to dazzle.

“This is not a show about aesthetics,” Albrecht says. “It’s about the social dimension of the architecture.”

But stepping into that micro apartment indeed is eye-opening.

Besides the Murphy bed and the desk, the television screen slides to reveal a bar hidden behind it. An ottoman comes apart to turn into a quartet of small stools. Pull a dining-room table out from under a counter and take down folding chairs from their perch on the wall and one can imagine an intimate dinner party.

Throughout, there are also decorative touches ranging from vases to plants, art to mirrors.

“I think people are surprised at how stylish it can be,” Albrecht adds.

Julia Grunberg, an interior designer working with Resource Furniture, is demonstrating the features of the micro unit on a recent afternoon, taking down the bed, opening the desk and pulling out the table.

She says the older museum visitors seem most intrigued by the ease and compactness of the space, but overall, the exhibition is clearly resonating with locals.

“It’s mostly just people coming from New York to see new ideas.”

And it’s no doubt they’ll take a new perspective back to their own homes, no matter their size.

“Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers” continues through Sept. 15 at the Museum of the City of New York, at 1220 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. “Small + Shared = Green,” a conversation on smaller housing and sharing units as a means of sustainability, will be offered at 6:30 p.m. March 19. Tickets are $12. Make required reservations by calling (917) 492-3395. For more details on the museum, call (212) 534-1672 or visit mcny.org.

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