It’s back – this time with the emphasis on FUN!
Flashback. Remember New York’s 2013 adAPT microflat competition? The winning project was by Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and nARCHITECTS. Apartments were between 250 sq.ft and 370 sq.ft.
Skilful yes but I find convertible furniture and rooms a bit soul-less. They’re so willing to bend themselves to accommodate and please they’ve no personality of their own, no policy for being. They’re never-ending wish-fulfilment rather than an acceptance of how little space one has – anti-existentialist “bad faith” architecture if ever there was. Once you’ve suggested you take coffee in the living room do your five dinner guests politely admire the view, backs turned, as you manically stash the table and put the sofa together?
Nevertheless, it was good to see some thought put into kitchen design
even though it wasn’t to the degree shown by Mart Stam in his 1923 Haas am Horn.
I liked the way the clothes storage and bathroom were thought of as one
even though Hannes Meyer’s 1930 Bauhaus went into more detail.
And I do get the “CANVAS”/”TOOLBOX” nomenclature, but I appreciate the graphics more
because they remind me of Herbert Bayer’s 1925 design for a cinema.
As an antidote to today’s architectural circuses, and even with all these failings, it was good to see even misguided thought put into how people could live with convenience and dignity in a small amount of space. Karel Teige wouldn’t have liked microflats either – and for much the same reasons. He’d have said they aspire to be mini-bourgeois homes with their range-hoods and ovens and their areas for dining and sleeping and entertaining pathetically separated in space or time.
Karel Teige thought the hotel room the housing typology most suited to single workers. In The MIinimum Dwelling, he used the example of New York’s 1924 Hotel Shelton on Lexington and 49th (now the New York Marriot East Side).
Teige wouldn’t have been so approving of today’s hotels where the “doorman” gestures his hand towards the door to save you the trouble of obstructing the motion sensor yourself. But as a Communist, Teige was enthusiastic about formerly domestic functions being outsourced and provided communally.
Karel Teige’s minimum dwelling units with communal facilities proved to be a successful model for communal living for the elderly. It’s also what we’re now rushing towards in the general residential rental market. New York studio apartments are now smaller than hotel rooms
and, what’s more, that they’re approaching 1930’s eastern European size standards.
The kitchen has all but atrophied into an electric kettle and minibar. Teige correctly theorised that the small size of the minimum dwelling units in new large-scale rental apartment developments would be compensated for by the many facilities on offer for communal use. This is what is now happening.
When I say communal I don’t mean miserable commie communal fun but life-enhancing capitalist communal fun. These new communal facilities are designed to not only compensate for small living areas but to actually add value by putting fun into Functionalism. Just as Teige predicted in 1932, you won’t be doing your own cooking, cleaning or laundry. In this new paradigm, you’ll be spending your quality time tanning, having barbecues, workouts, saunas and facials. Space is yesterday’s bourgeois architecture. It’s now about how little time you want to spend at the room where you sleep and how much you time you want to spend using the flash communal facilities.
“infinity edge pool, outdoor bar and lounge, private cabanas, an outdoor kitchen area for barbecues, lap pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna, spa area, squash court, weights room, cardio space, juice bar, yoga and pilates studio, daycare, golf simulator, flexible workout space, studio, lounge area”
(626 First Avenue)
“grilling terrace with dining cabanas, game room, golf simulator, skylit 50-foot swimming pool with sundeck, 3,300 square-foot fitness centre, spa suite with private treatment rooms, chef’s demonstration and catering kitchen, private dining room, drawing room with grand piano and multiple seating areas, 1,200 square-foot group fitness studio, boxing studio, private training studio, cinema screening room, children’s playroom, tweens’ den, library“
(New York by Gehry)
They make it sound disturbingly like what we imagine working at Google to be like. This alone should place us on intellectual orange alert. There’s a fine line between social productivity and economic exploitation but, whether communist or capitalist, it matters to keep the workers happy and productive.
“These types of developments are targeted toward young professionals making low six-figure salaries who aren’t quite ready to buy”. [Alexander Durst, son of Douglas Durst]
This is exactly what Teige is saying here. “… efforts to force the family-based-household-type dwelling on the working class is in conflict with its proletarian content, for the conventions and habits of bourgeois family life have not yet taken root in the lifestyle of the working class and are totally incompatible with the status of working women, for whom the bourgeois apartment with all its housekeeping chores becomes an impediment to both their economic and their cultural emancipation.” [Karel Teige, The Minimum Dwelling, p323]
There are important differences however. “With the progressive pauperisation of the proletariat, the increasing discrepancy between high rents and low wages becomes ever more glaring, thus making the housing shortage even more critical. In the final analysis, the solution to the housing problem cannot be sought within the context of an economic system in which the accumulation of wealth by a few creates an accumulation of poverty by the many.” [ibid, p323]
The approaches of Karel Teige and today’s property developers couldn’t be more opposite yet they’re both concerned with agreeable living arrangements for the productive members of the workforce – Teige for the purely communistic ends of social productivity, and property developers for the purely capitalistic ends of economic exploitation. That they both converge on the same spatial and social arrangements I find amazing.
I keep going back to The Minimal Dwelling. In 1930, Karel Teige gave us the conceptual apparatus for understanding why and how people should live in 2015 New York apartments the size of 1924 New York hotel rooms.
It seems that post-war baby-boom Levittown-life was the social aberration and, along with it, the case-study good-life architecture aspirations it spawned. We’ve long since lowered our aspirations but only now is the architecture starting to catch up. Fun!tionalism is with us.
• • •
- Fun!tionalism is where property speculation, financial hocus-pocus and the service industry converge. (Why’s it taken it so long?)
- Fun!tionalism seems like an architectural turning point. Space is so last century. Why have space? Space is for people who lounge in living rooms talking about art and drinking wine. Space and light are the aspirations of sixty-somethings.
- Fun!tionalism is a new and non-architectural way of adding value to living space. As a concept, it has the potential to add far more value to far less space and for far more people than the concept of space ever did.
• • •
The people approaching architects to design tiny apartments with loads of communal amenities are developers, not the people going to live in them. Despite these middlemen, buildings having loads of tiny apartments with loads of communal amenities are an architectural area showing a high level of activity and no-one’s bothering to make any sense out of it. They’re a new architectural product of our times and for our times. Art galleries, opera houses and culture centres are mere representations of yesterday’s notions of an architecture increasingly difficult to believe in.
Is this the future of housing? As someone who is consistently broke, between cities and schools, I would look towards a small, cheap room coupled with communal kitchens and common areas as an ideal living situation, one that encourages geographic mobility and a high tenant turnover. You needn’t stay long if you’re using such a place to get on your feet, putting yourself through college, moving to a new city, and so on. The buildings wouldn’t need to be huge, or grouped into cloistered complexes… just regular blocks of a moderate height. And the common areas would be practical and utilitarian, not profit-grabbing bells and whistles. Humanized modernism? I’m fired up. I barely have the vocabulary to even comment on this site, but thanks for another interesting and insightful post.
Hi Joseph! I think the future’s already here. We’re currently seeing upmarket examples in New York (which apparently has a shortage of 800,000 studios and 1-bed apartments) but the concept is easily downscalable. It’s not unlike the student housing I lived in for a year. This type of housing is currently seen as catering to a specific temporary needs (as you suggest) but, in time, it could come to be the new normal. Bring it on I say!