New York, NY
Design: Studio-ST Architects
New York city is said to be the capital of the world, a city whose diverse communities create a vibrant social fabric. However, the events of 2020, most notably the Covid-19 global pandemic, has revealed that the city is more divided than it may appear. While the wealthiest residents had the luxury of staying home, the city’s lower- income populations, immigrants, and essential workers faced heightened challenges. Essential workers were forced to continue commuting and working, while risking their own health in order to keep their jobs and maintain the city’s operations.
We thus feel that it is incumbent on us, and the city’s leaders, to prioritize and serve these essential yet vulnerable communities who have been the city’s lifeline during the past nine months.
The city currently has a glut of unoccupied new residential units. Moreover, in an effort to create ever more expensive apartments, developers leave large mechanical voids in order to create higher apartments which command better views and larger profits. We studied two examples of such luxury buildings – 200 Amsterdam Avenue and 50 West 66th Street – and propose repurposing their overbuilt floors and void spaces as affordable housing.
MicroPolis is a new housing typology of microhomes for large urban metropolises. It is a modular system of prefabricated, energy-efficient, and cost-effective microhomes that can be easily installed in already built structures. Reusing and repurposing existing built structures conserves resources and brings old, energy-inefficient buildings up to code. Carefully selected materials and cladding ensure thermal insulation and high R values for the walls, reducing energy use and cost. The volumetric staggering of the MicroPolis units creates a playful façade with balconies for most apartments. Large public outdoor spaces provide fresh air as well as play areas, social and co-working spaces for individuals and families.
Installing these complexes in more affluent and central neighborhoods will raise living standards for lower-income essential workers. Research has shown that living in such areas provides families with better access to daycare, education, and a safer neighborhood for their children. Essential workers are often burdened with long commutes, which increases their risk of virus exposure. Living in central locations will maximize their proximity to work and lower the city’s overall population carbon footprint. These microhomes are also suitable for young professionals or couples and graduate students, who can benefit from lower housing costs and public amenities.
For New York City to be the capital of the world, its housing landscape needs to better serve all its residents. MicroPolis celebrates the city’s diversity by fostering access, community, and equity for all its population. Although there will likely be NIMBY resistance to such a proposal from neighbors and developers, we believe that this proposal is not only the ethical imperative, it is also crucial to ensuring the city’s resilience and ability to withstand natural disasters and health crises.
The events of this year have exposed our vulnerability and interdependence. We realize how much we depend on one another and that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable citizens and therefore must support them.