Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Conceptual Design of NYC Micro Dwellings

Conceptual Design of NYC Micro Dwellings


As I began the conceptual design phase of the New York City Micro Dwellings, I thought about several architectural projects that had a similar design focus; small living units with natural light, ventilation, and an abundance of storage. After compiling these projects into a precedent study folder, I researched the site and found a fantastic panoramic view from various heights on the adjacent building. This led to a site analysis that focused on building elements and ground floor uses in adjacent buildings. All of this background research contributed to the concept sketches of the NYC Micro Dwellings’ design.

Precedent Research

To start my precedent research for the NYC Micro Dwellings, I gathered images of related projects, such as the Nakagin Capsule Towers in Japan and Gary Chang’s apartment in China. These two projects focused on very small residential spaces in two hyper dense cities. During the Metabolist Movement, the Nakagin Capsule Towers were designed by Kisho Kurokawa as prefabricated modules that are brought to the site, lifted into place, and bolted into a structural core. The structural core contains plumbing, electricity, ventilation, vertical circulation, and egress.

In China, Gary Chang’s apartment was designed and renovated by Chang to provide flexible spaces through the use of sliding millwork and furniture. Although his apartment is extremely small, he’s able to transform it into multiple types of spaces throughout the day. In addition to looking at photographs and floorplans scattered throughout the internet, I also found a YouTube video with Chang showing the various configurations that are possible in his apartment.

After researching these two examples of prefabricated and configurable small living spaces, I developed several key terms – tiny living, flexible spaces, prefabricated architecture, container architecture, etc. – and continued my precedent research on Pinterest. I’ve always found Pinterest to be a fantastic tool for architects and designers to organize precedent studies for a particular project and any inspirational projects. So I made a Pinterest board for the NYC Micro Dwellings and pinned any projects that contained related aspects to my design concept. As the project continues to develop, the board will grow and some original precedents might not relate to the building’s design. 

Check out my Pinterest board for the NYC Micro Dwellings here!

NYC Micro Dwellings Pinterest Board

Site Analyses

Once the precedent board was developed on Pinterest, I moved into the site analysis phase of the project and found the dimensions of the site using Google Earth and a parcel map from New York City. With the overall dimensions in hand, I developed a grid in plan to create squares that were roughly 400 square feet in size. This constraint will influence the schematic layout of each unit in the next phase of the project. 

Next, I researched the adjacent building at 505w 19th street and found a website dedicated to the new condominium towers designed by architect Thomas Juul-Hansen. On this website, there were professional photographs of both the exterior and interior of the building as well as the architect’s design statement. I began taking notes on storefronts and other programs on the ground floor of adjacent buildings. I also compiled a series of photographs of nearby buildings and studied two major architectural features; overall building form and openings.

For four buildings directly across the street from the site, I developed a sketch showing the overall building form, shape of the windows, and repetition of openings. While studying these elements of the buildings, it was clear that each building’s units were developed with a modular design. From this study, I found that most of the nearby buildings were rectilinear in form with a repetitive window pattern, which will influence the design of the NYC Micro Dwellings. 

NYC Micro Dwelling Elevation Studies 01

NYC Micro Dwelling Elevation Studies 02

NYC Micro Dwelling Elevation Studies 03

Concept Sketches

With preliminary site analyses complete, I began sketching some ideas for NYC Micro Dwelling’s units. These initial sketches focused on developing design features that should be incorporated into the design of each apartment. In the first sketch, my idea was to design the building as a structural core, columns, and thick concrete floors that would be open to the elements. A prefabricated living module would be brought to the site, lifted up through an atrium and placed on the floor plate. In essence, the Micro Dwelling complex would be a vertical distribution of green spaces in which one could purchase and place a living module. A design concept that remains between this design sketch and future sketches was the opportunity of having both indoor and outdoor spaces using a multiple panel sliding and pivot door system.

NYC Micro Dwelling Sketch Idea 1

In the next concept sketch, the design intent was to use shipping containers of two sizes to create an “L” in section. This would allow for the indoor and outdoor space to occur above the single story space. By staggering the units, every unit would have a balcony with visual privacy from their neighbors. In addition, this design would create a dynamic façade that incorporates the rectilinear forms and repetition of openings found in the nearby buildings.

NYC Micro Dwelling Sketch Idea 2

Next Steps

With these initial sketches on paper, I’ll focus on developing a Revit model with the overall site dimensions and grid. Each design sketch will be modeled as masses in Revit so that I could see the overall building form with multiple units on the site. In addition, a simple schematic layout that follows regulations and guidelines from the New York Building Codes, American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the American Disability Act (ADA) to ensure that every unit is designed equal and fair. This is one of the major design decisions that I’ve decided to incorporate into the NYC Micro Dwellings project so that every unit is accessible by everyone.

Thank you so much for reading and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below! Be sure to sign up for my newsletters and follow me on social media for updates on my design ventures!

Schematic Design of NYC Micro Dwellings

Schematic Design of NYC Micro Dwellings

Introduction to NYC Micro Dwellings

Introduction to NYC Micro Dwellings