27. September 2016
New York City's first micro-unit apartments were completed earlier this year on the east side of Manhattan. Designed by Brooklyn's nARCHITECTS, the Carmel Place project can also brag of being the tallest modular building in the city. Although the units are intentionally small, in response to the city's growing number of people living alone, the windows are large and the common spaces are generous, making the project a model for other sites in Manhattan and beyond. The architects answered a few questions about Carmel Place.
Aerial view from southwest
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
The revolutionary building is the result of a winning entry entitled “MY MICRO NY” by Brooklyn-based nARCHITECTS and Monadnock Development in the city’s 2012 adAPT NYC competition, an initiative launched as part of former Mayor Bloomberg’s administration’s New Housing Marketplace Plan to accommodate the city's growing small-household population. The building was granted several mayoral overrides to allow this prototype to be built, including a relaxation of the minimum unit size, and the maximum density, or number of units permitted in a building.
Aerial view from northwest
Please provide an overview of the project.
Carmel Place is a multi-family affordable housing building located in the neighborhood of Kips Bay, Manhattan. The project consists of 55 residential units between 260-360 square feet. nARCHITECTS’ design goals for the unit interiors was to achieve a sense of spaciousness, comfort and efficiency, even while shrinking their footprint. To achieve this goal, the architect-developer team increased the size of everything except the floor area: 9’-8” ceilings result in a volume that is close to or exceeds that of a regulation 400 square foot apartment, which coupled with the abundant daylight made possible by eight-foot-tall sliding windows and Juliet balconies, maximize the perceived volume of space. Extra storage space is located in the added height above the bathrooms. nARCHITECTS designed efficient and spacious kitchens and bathrooms, featuring high quality finishes that include high gloss lacquered cabinetry, back-painted glass, and porcelain tiles. The building’s five basic micro-unit types vary in size and configuration, thereby broadening the spectrum of choice for small family households.
View from the west
Considering that the project focused on micro-units and reducing the floor area of one’s unit, Carmel Place’s amenities were designed to be accessible to all residents and encourage them to live outside of the four walls of their unit. The amenity spaces are designed for multiple function and located in the building’s best places in order to enhance tenants’ active connection to the community. A sun-filled and over-sized lobby connects Mt Carmel Place’s sidewalk on the west to an exterior porch for residents’ use on the east. Conceived of as an interior street, this flexible space could in principle be used to host a dinner party for all the residents of the building. In addition to containing lounge spaces with built-in seating, the lobby opens to a large street-level and fully glazed gym that fronts the pedestrian 27th street and adjacent park. In the cellar, residents have access to a den, storage, bike storage and laundry, while at the 8th floor, a community room with a pantry leads onto a public roof terrace with sweeping city views. Spaces typical of a home are thereby dispersed throughout the building, encouraging residents to interact with their neighbors throughout their daily routine.
View from the east
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
nARCHITECTS designed the exterior and interior spaces of Carmel Place as a repeatable and systemic new paradigm for housing in NYC and other cities with similar housing challenges. Conceived as a microcosm of the city skyline, the building’s exterior resembles four slender “mini towers”, connecting the concept of micro-living to the form and identity of the building. The architects’ aim was to provide a new social framework for small households that emphasizes nested scales of community rather than individual residents. The eleven-foot-wide “towers” reflect this goal by celebrating the beauty of small dimensions, while not highlighting individual micro units on the exterior. The use of four shades of grey brick make connections to the project’s local context, while also placing Carmel Place within New York’s long legacy of brick used in housing. The building’s eight-foot-tall windows, placed in apartments, corridors and stairs, recall proportions used in New York’s 19th century brownstones, one of the architect’s references for the building’s interior proportions.
Roof terrace seen from the south
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
By incorporating setbacks in the design of the stepping “micro-towers,” Carmel Place’s urban form could in principle be adapted to different sites, at a range of heights and floor area ratios, and at nearly any location in a block. Beyond the site, Carmel Place was conscious in the affect its construction would have on the surrounding neighborhood, therefore, utilizing modular construction allowed a reduced construction timeline granting a more peaceful environment for existing residents.
How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
The building was conceived as a ten-story building, with three floors above the setback. Due to maximum height overrun permitted and a desire for taller ceilings, one floor of units was eliminated. Each floor level was initially designed to have a small den or seating area. However, due to ADA constraints enlarging the size of the bathroom and kitchen, the den use changed to leasable storage for tenants. At the behest of the city, a small retail space was added at the ground level to help activate the pedestrian walkway connecting 1st Avenue to Bellevue South Park.
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?
Carmel Place is – at the time of writing - the tallest modular building in Manhattan, and one of the first multi-unit Manhattan buildings using modular construction. Construction of Carmel Place consisted of fabrication, transportation and stacking of 65 individual self-supporting steel framed modules; 55 of which serve as residential micro-units, while the remaining ten serve as the building’s core. The modules were pre-fabricated locally in the Brooklyn Navy Yard at the Capsys factory, while the foundation and ground floor were built on site. The completed modules were then transported over the Manhattan Bridge and stacked on site ready for installation of appliances and some interior finishes. Dividing the construction process reduced on-site construction noise and neighborhood disruption, while the controlled environment of the factory allowed the team to control quality and maintain critical interior dimensions.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Ground Floor Plan
2nd to 4th Floor Plan
8th Floor Plan
New York, NY
Eric Bunge, Mimi Hoang
Tony-Saba Shiber, Daniel Katebini-Stengel, Cheryl Baxter, Albert Figueras, Prathyusha Viddam, Gabrielle Marcoux, Amanda Morgan, Zach Cohen, Matthew Scarlett, Matthew Wilson, Alexis Payen
Eric Bunge, Mimi Hoang (Principals); Ammr Vandal (Associate, Project Architect), Daniel-Katebini Stengel, Christopher Grabow, Alex Tseng, Nancy Putnam
Consulting Architect (competition phase)
DeNardis Engineering LLC
A. Joselow, P.C.
Civil Engineer and Landscape
Taitem Engineering, PC