Compact apartment living doesn’t need to be awful. It’s important to say that, out load as it were, because in New Zealand many people think of apartments as terrible shoeboxes – devoid of light and a basic capacity to nurture humans. And of course there are many horrific examples of such spaces in our cities. But this doesn’t need to be the case. An apartment, even a small one, can be elegant, fun and efficient. Just because the space is small, doesn’t mean the occupants deserve any less of those qualities. In fact, a need to be resourceful can push designers to be inventive.
As cities in Australia and New Zealand become increasingly dense and as real estate prices continue to defy all logic, it is important to think about how small spaces can create living experiences of greater efficiency, but without stripping out all of the things that make you feel good.
In dense Asian metropolises the efficiency of space is paramount and examples of tightly planned, but beautifully detailed, apartments are much more common. In the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, HAO Design has created such a space in its Block Village project. The apartment is 40 square metres, what many in New Zealand would consider a very small space. But the apartment uses clever storage and a mezzanine floor to comfortably house a family of three.
The palette of materials lends a freshness to the interior. Pale plywood stairs and cabinetry are set against white walls with accents of olive, mint and egg shell greens. Rendered masonry and a warm engineered timber floor add some mass to create a balanced collection of material textures and colours. The inbuilt cabinetry provides vast areas of storage with refined detailing and a rhythmic paneling of colour. The architects chose the colour scheme and material palette to make the space feel bigger than its quantitative dimensions and highlight the ideas of assemblage that underpin the concept behind the interior.
The architects describe their approach to planning the apartment as a collection of “several buildings blocks in the house, with different functions…connected to [make] a home”. The space may be small, but the connection of the spaces, with carefully placed screening elements allows for privacy and collectivity at the same time.
The visual connections created in the interior, particularly the internal windows that subtly link private and public realms, are reminiscent of the Raumplan designs of Austrian and Czechoslovakian architect Adolf Loos. The master of modern interior planning, Loos, created spaces that were interlinked in such an intricate way that they started to feel woven together. Small volumes were suddenly given greater agency with the interior and any feelings of claustrophobia were banished. HAO Design has quietly applied the philosophies developed by Loos within the Block Village, while evolving the aesthetic to be more light hearted.
The couple that occupies the apartment, with their little girl, has defined spaces for eating, relaxing and working. But none of these feel compromised by the overall size of the apartment. For the architects, the tuning of the spaces to the clients needs was a paramount concern; “we spend lots of time to understand the owner’s habits, living style [and] interests, to make the space more cozy for the family”. This personal approach to the client’s way of life has resulted in a carefully considered, beautifully detailed and playful interior. The Block Village demonstrates a human approach to the design of small spaces and one that could be applied more widely in growing pacific cities to great effect.