BIG THOUGHTS ABOUT LITTLE SPACES: A Q&A WITH THE “MAKING ROOM” CURATOR
Many New Yorkers dream of bigger apartments, but this week, Mayor Bloomberg urged us to consider the virtues of tiny spaces.
“The growth rate for one- and two-person households greatly exceeds that of households with three or more people, and addressing that housing challenge requires us to think creatively and beyond our current regulations,” said the billionaire mayor, who reportedly lives in a 12,500 square foot townhouse.
He might have a point: only 18% of New York City apartments are occupied by nuclear families. Compare that to 33% of apartments that are occupied by single people living alone. How much space does a single person really need, especially when there’s so much to do and see in the city?
This week, the Museum of the City of New York, in conjunction with research and advocacy organization Citizens Housing & Planning Council, opened a new exhibit, Making Room, which gives New Yorkers a futuristic glimpse at housing in the coming decades as the city’s population is projected to grow by 600,000.
Making Room features a fully furnished, micro-studio apartment, which is just 325 square feet (28 square feet shy of the living space in the International Space Station and about 50 square feet bigger than the smallest apartment envisioned in in the Mayor’s adAPT NYC Competition. The exhibition also includes six models by architectural teams considering how to create small but comfortable spaces for today’s New Yorkers, as well as lessons from cities from Vancouver to Tokyo.
Culture Craver’s Julia Levy spoke yesterday with the show’s co-curator Donald Albrect — who, for the record, happily lived in a 285 square foot studio for about 9 years — about the exhibit.
Julia: Before I get into the really important questions about Making Room, if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of a space do you live in?
Donald: I live in a 835 square foot, one bedroom apartment at East 52nd Street … There’s a wonderful developer-builder from the ’20s called Bing & Bing, and it’s one of those very nice pre-wars, but I actually lived in studios for 25 years, and I used exactly these kinds of devices [displayed in the exhibit]. I built a counter with cabinets and a captain’s bed that slid under the counter. What you’re seeing here is very high end and very elegant, but you can do it in a variety of ways. What we’re showing is principles for how to live in a small space.
Julia: How did the idea of this exhibit come together?
Donald: Citizens Housing & Planning Council came to the Museum of the City of New York. We do exhibitions of historical figures, but we like to do exhibitions about the future of New York — that are current and relevant and futuristic. So, for instance, we had already done an exhibit on Growing and Greening, which was about the sustainability issues behind the Mayor’s PlaNYC, so it fit into the mandate of the museum. When they came to us, the director of the museum said, “Would you be interested in being the co-curator on this?” I co-curated it with a woman named Andrea Renner, who is a Mellon Fellow here. Since I do a lot of historical shows, I thought it would be interesting to do a contemporary one. So we met with Citizens Housing, and they were approached by this company, Resource Furniture, who said, “We would like to build a full-scale unit in the gallery.” So, they designed and actually underwrote the development. We would have never been able to afford this. It was a dream for us, because in our original plan we had wanted to have a full-scale unit.
Julia: Walking into the exhibit’s micro-unit sort of feels like you’re walking into an iPhone.
Donald: Yes — we wanted something modern.
Julia: How does the idea of “living small” fit into New York City history?
Donald: It’s the stuff of jokes and legends — the size of New York apartments and the expense. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were dreadful slum conditions, where people were living in very confined housing, and that’s where all these regulations came in. Eight people were living in a fetid, little apartment — and none of those rules and regulations are being changed. We’re not changing safety laws, we’re not changing issues of light and air, those are all staying. We’re following the ADA — Americans with Disabilities Act. The only thing the micro-unit changes is the square footage. So instead of being 400, which is what quality housing has to be now, it’s 325, and that’s what the Mayor’s plan is doing, too.
Julia: What were some of the most surprising facts you encountered when putting this together?
Donald: The fact that only 18% of the city is husband, wife, and two kids — or husband, husband, and two kids, or wife, wife, and two kids nowadays. That half the city is single. That there’s a law that says that more than three unrelated people cannot live together. There again, that came about because all you have to do is look at the little film we’ve got — we’ve got those famous photographs by Jacob Riis, which are in the museum’s collection, that show a family of eight living in 285 square feet, and there’s a bathroom down the hall.
Julia: The exhibit points out that lifestyles have changed — from the demographic issues you mentioned to the fact that more people are working from home. Do you think we need additional regulatory changes to accommodate people’s new lifestyles?
Donald: If regulations were made easier, it would be much simpler to be flexible. So if I’m living [in the bungalow model in the exhibit] — if I’m a family, my kids have all left, and I want to convert the garage into a living facility that I could rent, or if my son is forced to come back to live with me but I want to give him a private space, or if my mother is elderly and she moves in with me but I want to give her a little apartment, I could. If we made these accessory dwelling units, we could be more flexible: the house could survive the lifecycle of a family, versus what happens now…
Julia: What were some of the top housing lessons we can learn from other countries?
Donald: There’s a very interesting one in the exhibition from Vancouver. It’s a two-bedroom apartment but it has two doors to the corridor … all you have to do is change the locks on the door, and you have two one-bedroom apartments or one two-bedrooms. That’s currently illegal in New York.
Julia: Did you encounter any horrible housing models that we should avoid?
Donald: To me, building giant houses in the wetlands of Florida is a bad idea.
Julia: If you were to project 10, 20, 30 years in the future, do you think a lot of people in New York are going to be living in micro-units?
Donald: I have a feeling, we’re going to bring back those smaller units. I don’t think everyone’s going to be living in them. Put it this way: loads of people are already living in them because they’re living in old tenements, and at the same time, we already have a lot of people who are sharing illegally. They’re already renting a bedroom in an apartment; that’s illegal. That should be alleviated, hopefully, in the future because it’s dangerous from a fire law standpoint. Also, if we’re going to keep a young, creative class of people here, we have to provide more affordable housing, and that’s what the plan is about. It looks a little utopian when you look at the images — there are all these communal spaces and people are having a great time — but it is definitely geared toward a younger creative class of people who come here and find they can’t afford to live, and they don’t stay.
Julia: So, the thinking is that if we’re going to hit that projected growth number — 600,000 new New Yorkers by 2030 — there has to be appropriate space?
Donald: Yes. How do they fit? How do we make room? And how do we also change the architecture to accommodate a changing demographic?
Making Room is showing at the Museum of the City of New York through September 15, 2013. The museum is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue and is open every day, 10 AM to 6 PM.
In the mid-1800s, stereographs became popular: people would look through stereoscopes (special viewfinders) at two images on “stereo cards” in order to create the illusion of three dimensions.
Visitors to Green-Wood Cemetery (and other monuments) would remember their visits by looking at stereographs of famous mosoleums and nature scenes.
We turned a couple of the popular Green-Wood Cemetery stereographs from the era into gifs; we figure that the gif is today’s stereograph.
On the left is the Charlotte Canda memorial, created in 1865 to remember a girl who died in a carriage accident on her 17th birthday. On the right is the 1870 monument to tobacconist John Anderson. He was questioned in, but never charged with, one of New York’s most notorious unsolved murders — the death of Mary Rogers, known as “the Beautiful Cigar Girl.” Her death inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Images are courtesy of the Green-Wood Historic Fund.
These images are among the artifacts that will be on display at A Beautiful Way To Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery, the upcoming exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, commemorating the cemetery’s 175th birthday. The exhibit runs from May 15 through August 30.
NY Museum Mile 2013!
Falling on June 11th this year, Janet and I headed out to the city to be part of this 6-9pm block party. After a very long detour through central park (almost 20 blocks) we finally found ourselves on 72nd on 5th Ave. We walked up to 82nd, passing the MET and walking up towards the Guggenheim where it was a bit more festive. There were a few booths that looked more out of place or randomly put on the street that were advertising things like Asian culture, and visiting the Czech Republic. The high light of the day was definitely the chalk drawing. In front of every museum, people were given chalk to doodle to their hearts content. People of all ages were drawing, writing, leaving their mark.
I had a moment with the kids in the 3rd photo. I couldn’t find any chalk so I was looking around and suddenly, both of these kids appear next to me with a full stick of chalk. I hesitantly walk over to them and ask them where they got the chalk from. The one in the darker color shirt stands up and looks at me so I repeat my statement. It ends up that the kid’s native language was not english so after some struggling and a lot of awkward smiling, I learned there was a lady that was giving it out further down the avenue. Much to our dismay, Janet and I found the lady…with an empty box of chalk. That’s where we met Henry (fourth photo)! He was kind enough to lend us some of his own chalk. In the fifth photo, it was just some random kid who walked over to me and said ” LET ME HELP YOU” and thus, a collaboration was done. It was really fun to interact with all the people there, building up a community of art loving and fun going people.
Ironically, we only were able to hit one museum, the Museum of the City of New York where we looked at Stephen Burrows, When Fashion Danced Exhibit. Really quite lovely. We looked at some other exhibits in the museum and ended our day outside el museuo del barrio, listening to the DJ close up the night. It was a little disappointing I didnt get a chance to go to the Neue Gallery because one of my professors recommended it to me due to its extensive Gustav Klimt Collection, but another day! Over all, an amazing day.
Pathetically, my calf muscles were sore the next day after walking almost 50 blocks in one day. Worth it.
A Micro-Apartment of One’s Own
A “micro-unit” as envisioned by Pierluigi Colombo in an ongoing exhibition at the Museum of the…
Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York - closes Sun, July 28. A few more days to catch a glimpse of 70s fashion history. His fluid looks defined the glamorous nightlife of the era, body-conscious designs made for dancing and freedom of movement. Model and muse Pat Cleveland embodies the mood of Burrows’ aesthetic. He dressed celebs such as Cher, Liza Minnelli, and Diana Ross. Burrows is best known for his vibrant colors, lettuce edging, and color blocking.
You should also know he was part of the infamous "Battle of Versailles" 1973 runway show. (WWD story here) Burrows was one of 5 American designers chosen in ‘73 to show alongside 5 Fr couturiers. American design outshone the French, and the event won newfound respect for U.S. fashion. You can thank Stephen for his part in having American fashion “arrive” onto the world stage.
If you can’t make it to the museum, a companion book is available: Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced, documenting his extraordinary career. ~museum photos: MicheleKantra, red carpet photos courtesy
The Museum of the City of New York and the International Center of Photography have teamed up on an exhibition of personal photographs taken during and after Hurricane Sandy.
In an interesting move by the curators, they selected both high resolution professional shots and photos from smartphones.
Rosanne Cash talked to NY1 about the importance of saving the Seaport Museum’s 1893 schooner Lettie G. Howard! Visit www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org/rosanne-cash to purchase tickets for her benefit concert on Monday, April 8:
The Museum of the City of New York celebrated the opening of Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced with a spectacular opening party! The city’s top fashion insiders and fans were there to feast their eyes on the vibrant frocks, including Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui, Catherine Malandrino, and legendary models Pat Cleveland and Bethanne Hardison. Check out the video below as Burrows himself talks about being honored, Iman tells the story of how Burrows put her in her first pair of heels, and much more!