Living Small is the Next Big Trend By J. Michael Abbott

Noted 19th century architect Daniel Burnham left an indelible mark on the built environment when he proclaimed, “Make no little plans.” However, today’s worldwide urban housing shortage forces city planners and architects to think little, very little. 200 to 400 square-foot micro-lofts are the next big housing trend in the United Kingdom, Poland, China, and in American metropolises such as San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and Providence.

Even the Big Apple is thinking small. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently amended zoning laws and building codes to allow apartments smaller than 400 square feet and commissioned 80 300-square-foot apartments in Manhattan last summer.

At home and abroad micro-lofts prove to be innovative housing models that offer access to urban amenities at affordable prices. Major furniture retailers IKEA and Crate & Barrel recently joined the micro trend and sell sofas, tables, bedding, and storage specifically designed for smaller living spaces.

Rhode Island Landmark Repurposed as Micro-Lofts

The Arcade was built in 1828 in the Greek Revival style and is regarded as the nation’s first enclosed three-story shopping mall. The Arcade was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and is notable not only for its striking architecture, which includes Ionic columns at both entrances to the building, but also for the memories many Rhode Islanders have of strolling through the building.

Northeast Collaborative Architects were retained by developer Evan Granoff to create 48 micro-lofts on the building’s second and third floors. The $7 million adaptive reuse project respects the Arcade’s historic design, but the building will be modernized with double-hung windows to bring in more light. The furnished one bedroom units will range in size from 225 to 450 square feet and will feature full bathrooms, built-in beds, seating, storage, as well as kitchens equipped with refrigerators, sinks, dishwashers, and microwaves. When residents need more space than their cozy individual units offer,they can take advantage of a game room, TV room and porches. The Arcade has other common amenities including on-site laundry, bike storage, locked basement storage units, and a parking garage across the street.

The micro-lofts’ modest size was designed to keep rents affordable for students graduating from Providence’s colleges and universities. Rents will start at $550 a month. Tenants are expected to move into the micro-loft units in early 2013, possibly as soon as February.

The ground level will soon be filled with a variety of single and double level retail shops. Four of the 14 units are designated for restaurants, offering private access, outdoor seating, and interior restrooms. The units average 400 square feet, but they may be combined for those who want more space.

The Arcade has been shuttered for the last three years. In that time, the Providence Preservation Society placed it on its list of the city’s 10 most endangered properties. When plans to reopen the Arcade as a mixed-use development were announced in 2012, the news was welcomed by elected officials and civic leaders, who called it an important development for the city’s downtown. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said, “This project breathes new life into America’s oldest indoor mall and one of our city’s most historically significant buildings.”

The Museum of the City of New York will feature the Arcade’s micro-lofts in an exhibit this month called, Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers. The exhibit opens on January 23, 2013 and showcases innovative design solutions to better accommodate New York City’s changing, and sometimes surprising, demographics, including a rising number of single people, and will feature a full-sized, flexibly furnished micro-studio apartment of just 325 square feet – a size prohibited in most areas of the city. Visitors to the exhibition will see models and drawings of housing designs by architectural teams commissioned in 2011 by Citizens Housing & Planning Council, in partnership with the Architectural League of New York. The exhibition also presents winning designs from the Bloomberg administration’s recently launched pilot competition to test new housing models, as well as examples set by other cities in the United States and around the world, including Seattle, Providence, Montreal, San Diego, and Tokyo.

•Bike access: Outside ramp brings rider directly to bike storage room

•Additional lockable storage on basement level

•Coded security access for residents

•On-site laundry facilities

•Convenient access to public transportation

•Downtown conveniences including restaurants, theaters, shopping, art and culture, music

and entertainment, gyms and car rentals

•Parking available at Arcade Garage for a monthly fee

•Guest parking passes available for a fee

J. Michael Abbott, AIA, CNU-A, APA is a partner and founding principal of Northeast Collaborative Architects of Middletown, CT and Newport and Providence, RI.

©2016 Northeast Collaborative Architects