Sunday, August 24, 2008

Architectural Piles

A double entendre: the practice of cramming as many dwellings as possible into the smallest square footage. The concept originated in Japan in the late twentieth century with the design of hotels in the form of multiple chests of drawers, with each drawer containing just sufficient room for one or two adults (luggage restrictions applied). After spending a night in one of these compartments and surviving a panic attack brought on by the sensation of having been caught fresh and packed for export, the great British architect Hilda Danegeld began work on the world’s first designed-from-the-ground-up, hot-wired, limited-headroom micro apartment. The idea came to her at thirty thousand feet during her return flight from Tokyo to London, when her eye fell on a newspaper article about a broom cupboard in the upscale district of Knightsbridge that sold for a tidy sum as a pied-à-terre. What was good for Knightsbridge, she realized, would be even better for less distinguished neighborhoods where the demand for accommodation came predominantly from single people and couples on modest incomes. Always content to squeeze the most from the least, building developers needed little persuasion to adopt the idea; while Government, anxious to increase what it optimistically referred to as “affordable housing”, joined in with the offer of subsidized mortgages to help key workers to buy their first home. Within a few years, micro-living became the norm for the less-well-off throughout the developed world.
Hilda Danegeld was knighted in 2014 for architectural innovation in support of the homeless. By the time she died, however in 2029, serious flaws in micro-living had become apparent. Suicides among UK micro apartment dwellers had risen to over twice the national average, and, on a per capita basis, were even higher in the United States, perhaps because living in a confined space seemed to be in flagrant conflict with the American dream of personal freedom.
Observers noted that the architects who made fortunes out of designing micro apartments - and their work-place equivalent, micro-offices - neither lived nor worked in their own creations. For themselves, they preferred elegant country residences set in established gardens on the outskirts of picturesque villages, and offices in spacious high-tech towers, or converted city mansions designed by builders of a more gracious and stately age. In an interview at her Palladian mansion just outside Oxford some two years before her death, Dame Hilda admitted that her experience in that Japanese hotel all those years before had made her determined never again to spend so much as a night in a confined space. “No modern architect worth her salt would live in a micro,” she confided. “Matter of fact, few would be seen dead in anything they’d designed.”
A codicil to her will specified that her coffin was to be “at least one cubic centimetre larger than the washroom in a typical “Danegeld” micro-home.

No comments:

Post a Comment