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Kim Nielsen: 'Architects can learn from boat design for micro-homes'

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Kim Nielsen of Danish practice 3XN talks about the opinion-splitting, micro-home proposals by developer Pocket and plans for similar, compact homes in Århus

‘Århus is the second largest city in Denmark and home to a large university. Our client asked us to create a building, called La Tour, that offers low-cost, high quality housing comprising small and flexible units suitable for students.

‘Apartments range from 32.5m² up to 93m², with the majority between 50-60m², so quite similar in size to those in Pocket’s design competition (see AJ 15.01.14).

‘The units have also been designed to be joined together if an owner wants to remain in the building as their needs evolve.  Additional value is brought to the building through its unique expression and identity, which stand out on the city skyline. The distinctive shape uses terracing to transition from the large flat volumes in the local area to the urban high-rise typology. 

‘Developers in Denmark have identified a demand for micro-apartments, especially in cities like Copenhagen and Århus with large populations of students and young people.

‘There are no minimum size requirements for market rate apartments - although there are limits to the size of units in social housing developments. These units do satisfy a specific demand at one end of the housing market and can help tackle a part of the housing crisis in dense urban locations. They also pose interesting challenges for architects, encouraging us to be as efficient as possible and explore all of the options, especially with prefabrication of components or even total units.’

[For small homes] architects can learn a lot from boat design for this type of project. Think about ultimate efficiency and designing space for more than use. The kitchen can be more than just a kitchen, be a part of the living room.

La Tour - 3XN's compact apartment scheme for Aarhus - unit layouts

La Tour - 3XN’s compact apartment scheme for Aarhus - unit layouts

‘In terms of the Pocket home finalists, I noted only one of the plans I saw incorporated daylight from more than one side. I understand it is difficult, if not impossible, to get daylight from more than one side in an urban block context. Clearly, a shallower building provides more opportunities for daylight to penetrate a unit, but this may be challenging to achieve working at this budget level.

‘I appreciate the flexibility designed into the units, particularly the use of sliding doors. This type of apartment must be as flexible as possible to respond to a variety of possible users. Here in Denmark, we think they are especially suited to two students or young friends - not a couple sharing a flat - the schemes that have more equitably sized bedrooms are a good solution for this market.

‘It is also very important integrate corridors/circulation into the larger living space as much as possible, to maximize usable space. Not all of the plans located the kitchen and circulation in the most efficient of ways.’

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