I think the micro unit provides some great opportunities to provide high-density housing in the right urban locations … locations where land prices are extremely high, like New York and San Francisco. Utilizing micro units removes the main barrier to entry to [such] cities for those who want the urban lifestyle but can’t afford the rent for a conventional apartment.
I think the micro unit is here to stay in the right urban locations, and even some not-so-urban places, like Santa Monica, that are highly desirable but expensive places to live. But in markets that don’t have those drivers, it won’t last.
— Manny Gonzalez, AIA, principal, KTGY Group
I think the micro-unit trend will continue. It’s all about people’s attitudes toward the concept of ‘home.’ When we talk about a ‘home’ or ‘house,’ an image immediately comes to mind of what a typical unit should look like. But people [tend to] take this image for granted, seldom thinking about what they really need in a home. [And] everyone’s needs are different.
A micro unit is a solution for those who don’t make much money or don’t spend much time at home, such as some young professionals. As long as this condition persists, the micro-unit trend will keep going.
— Aaron Cheng, designer, BAR Architects
The time of the 550-square-foot to 350-square-foot unit has come. The way I see it, this is the beginning of the Manhattanization of most U.S. cities. This isn’t a trend; it’s a paradigm shift. There are residential high-density and residential high-rise buildings going up in virtually all the top 50 U.S. cities. These buildings, like those in Manhattan, are expensive to build—on expensive ground—so, naturally, you’ll go to micro units to meet the monthly affordability of your target renter.
Does that mean the end of larger units? No. Many cities are seeing growth in large units, too, because of demand from Baby Boomers.
— Mark Humphreys, CEO, Humphreys & Partners Architects
In general, as with hem lines and tie widths, dwelling-unit sizes grow or shrink until someone finds the limits of either large or tiny and they’re no longer marketable, and the trend reverses. That said, the general shrinking trend we’re seeing now will continue until the cross section of our rental dwellings comes into balance with the global industrialized market.
There will always be a market segment in which price trumps everything else, especially prior to the accumulation of “stuff.” Micro units fill that niche. Also, some lifestyles are less dependent on “nesting,” so the dwelling is basically a place to sleep, bathe, and keep your clothes in between other engagements—not much of a leap from a dorm room, really, except perhaps that the bath is private.
This “life stage” tends to be transitional for many, if not most, people, and wee units should expect a fairly rigorous churn.
— Daniel P. Gehman, AIA, associate, Harley Ellis Devereaux
Micro units are the natural response to what we’ve seen getting built over the past couple of decades—macro units. But homes can’t continue to grow if incomes are stagnating—the bursting of the housing bubble made that perfectly clear.
Home, apartment, or condo sizes need to fit the realities of buyers’ ability to pay. Most families don’t really need thousands of square feet to feel comfortable, especially if it puts them deeply in debt. And for a single in the city, 350 square feet may be plenty, if they have cafés and clubs right nearby and don’t have to commute in from the suburbs.
Micro units are the perfect way to close the gap between incomes and the cost of housing that has grown since the 1970s. Unless we all have above-average incomes, micro units are here to stay.
— David Eisen, principal, Abacus Architects + Planners