Michael Chen’s 5:1 Apartment in NYC

People / Places / January 11, 2016

Michael Chen is an up and comer with a gift for designing compact and transformational spaces.

Like his 5:1 apartment in New York.

At 390 square feet, it falls into the mid-range of his micro housing projects, with the smallest totaling 250 square feet. This one’s in an early 20th-century building near Gramercy Park.

“We gutted it, reorganized it and made it new,” the architect says. “We call it 5:1 because it’s five different spaces – it performs multiple functions in a single space.”

He achieves that with a moving wall that slides away from one section of the room, to allow a bed to swing down, while the wall – motorized, with a rotating television in it – creates a dressing room. That leaves the bed on one side and a living area on another.

“It’s a daytime to nighttime kind of exchange,” he says. “You can sit on the sofa and watch television, and then rotate the television volume 180 degrees to the bedroom.”

His clients are asking for more use from their small spaces, and he delivers – in spades. That’s because he’s learned to think in terms of authenticity of uses, not square feet. “Our mantra in the office is: “A real mattress, a real sofa,  a real kitchen, a real bathroom – and storage,” he says. “It’s usually all part of a considerably larger space, but this is highly coordinated to work within a small space.”

It’s an approach that’s sensitive to the choreography of the  body, with a mapping of the kinds of uses needed. “It’s scenario planning, with different kinds of scenarios for use – individual scenarios and social scenarios and elements for each of  those patterns of use,” he says.

In the case of the 5:1 apartment, all those scenarios center on that moveable wall. “A lot of the complexities of living are coordinated around a very simple motion,” he says.

Simple? Yes – but designed within an inch of its life.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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