It’s official, London’s population is growing far faster then anyone predicted. According to the results of the 2011 census released last week, it now stands at a whopping 8.2 million residents. Rent and house prices continue to soar, forcing people into ever more overcrowded houses and food banks have begun to spring up across the city providing extra support to those struggling to survive on stagnant wage packets.
Global Cities: London by the London School of Economics. Shows population density.
Thanks to, among other factors, improved health care, we are all living a ruddy long time and this means, globally, there are a lot of people and not a lot of space. The world needs affordable housing and fast. But in the absence of a housing fairy godmother, granting cheap land and building material wishes, what can be done?
Many people think the answer lies in micro-apartments. Recently, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted in favour of reducing the minimum apartment size to just 220 sq ft with the hope of providing teeny tiny cheap housing for all. To put that into context, they will be about the size of a cruise liner cabin or a small trailer.
Opticle glass house. Hiroshima, Japan.
Joining Frisco, Vancouver, Dongguan, Hiroshima, Warsaw and even New York's mayor Bloomberg have all approved similar trials. Over the past few years, micro-apartments have started to pop up across London too. In 2010 a converted broom cupboard in Knightsbridge was valued at up to £200,000. At 60.5 sq ft - smaller than a full-sized snooker table - the flat has little space for possessions, yet, paradoxically, it was its proximity to Harrods that made it so desirable.
A large Nido 'cube'.
In the not too distant past, wacky Tokyo pod hotels seemed like just a Japanese gimmick. Who knew that London’s students could end up living in spaces not much bigger. The Nido ‘cube’ - that’s marketing speak for miniscule flats to you and me – in Kings Cross is a 16 ft x 9 ft student flat that could, unbelievably, set you back more than £300 a week. However, Nido have seen such huge success with their ‘cube’ complexes that further blocks have recently sprung up in Spitalfields and Notting Hill.
Where do you put your stuff when your home is the size of a shoebox? The answer, as demonstrated beautifully by Barcelona-based photographer Christian Schallert in the video above, is everywhere and anywhere. Economising on space means more than just resisting stocking up on everything on two-for-one at Tescos. Every cupboard, appliance and sideboard has to be carefully planned, doubling or tripling up in terms of usage. When is a chair not a chair? When it’s a bed, sofa or linen in Schallert’s converted pigeon loft.
Gary Chang's apartment.
Gary Chang, a Hong Kong architect designed his 344 sq ft apartment to be changeable into 24 different designs by shifting panels and walls, James Bond style. A TV wall pulls out to reveal a secret kitchen, the bedroom wall conceals a bath. Some residents say they even grow to like the micro life and - a life without clutter can be quite liberating. Critics claim however, that micro-apartments will just end up strengthening class divides.
Keetwonen Shipping Container Housing in the Netherlands
Like the idea or not, London is already the 43rd most densely populated city on the planet and we need more houses. One in ten Londoners are on a waiting list for housing and the average rent for a two bedroom flat is £1,272 a month (almost double that of the rest of the country).
Other affordable housing solutions include: taller buildings, converted shipping containers (a la the Netherlands) and more flexible working hours, allowing people to work from home which would minimize the need to live in a city at all. It’s very likely however, that smaller homes will become much more common. But as Socrates once said, or wrote, or didn’t write, depending on you’re stance: “the secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
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