Transformable apartments maximize limited space

Imagine rearranging your living space so you can throw a dinner party for 20 of your friends in the same room where you normally sleep. Or transforming your cozy home office into an elaborate home theater for family movie night. And doing all of that with just the wave of your hand or the sound of your voice.       

The home or apartment unit you are living in today, with defined rooms, static walls and immovable appliances, may soon become a thing of the past. Innovative urban planning experts and researchers are designing and prototyping new “transformable” units that will maximize limited square-footage and allow people to easily personalize their space layouts for their changing needs. Transformable units could soon become popular in cities that are facing affordable housing crises and “brain drain” because residential square footage is limited and far too expensive for working class families and young prospective talent.

In many cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami the limited inventory of available residential units are either the most expensive and spacious units or the units that are too compact to accommodate the needs of the people who work and live in town. But there are innovative researchers who believe that size isn’t everything and that the square footage of a residential unit shouldn’t determine its usefulness or value. What if the appeal of a residential unit had nothing to do with the actual size of that unit, but rather the flexibility that space could offer?

Apartment transformations “out of the box”

The Changing Cities team at MIT Media Lab is currently working on a project called CityHome that might just meet that urgent need for housing by helping residents make the most out of the space they can actually afford. CityHome is a slick mechanical box that is roughly the size of a closet and sits inside an apartment. The box stores everything from a bed and dining room table to a cooking range, kitchen surface and closet for extra storage. The CityHome contains all the essential components from various rooms in a traditional apartment unit, all in a single cube.

By using simple hand gestures, the touch of your hand or even your voice, you can transform the box to create your room of choice. Internal motors eject each piece (i.e. the bed or dining room table) with the speed and ease of an automobile power window, transforming the room into the living space you require for any given moment. Designers of the CityHome envision using various apps to personalize your living space even further, like altering the lighting.

CityHome allows residents to transform a main room in a small apartment from a sleeping space with a double bed at night to a work space during the day, providing them the flexibility and maximum use of space they could never achieve in a traditional apartment layout.

“This would work well in the 30 to 40 Innovation Cities where young people are priced out of the market,” MIT Media Lab’s lead researcher Kent Larson told Fast Company. “At $1,000 per square foot in Boston, the extra cost of technology is trivial compared to space saved for a furnished apartment.”

A working class resident with a limited budget could basically install a CityHome box in a cramped apartment and make that space infinitely more livable without ever breaking the bank.

Mobile partitions and furniture systems 

Madrid-based PKMN (as in “pac-man”) architectures is another innovative organization attempting to help people get the most out of their smaller living spaces. PKMN architectures is designing an innovative, flexible living space in Asturias, Spain that can house an entire family with a transformable apartment unit by reconfiguring the unit to suit the residents’ immediate needs.

PKMN architectures’ idea is called an MJE House and consists of mobile partitions and furniture systems that can be moved around an apartment unit to completely transform the space and forever change your definition of a “room.” Similar to the CityHome idea, the entire space can be easily transformed by using simple hand gestures. The movable room partitions, and the furniture embedded in them, can be changed into three positions that literally transform the space. By simply sliding these partitions to different areas of the unit, you can “add” a bedroom or completely eliminate it to make room for an open-loft plan. You can transform a quiet study space into a raucous party room within just a few minutes.

And the MJE House, or Little Big House, is just one of several transformable design ideas currently being designed and tested by PKMN architectures. The firm is also working on innovative furniture that uses floor space wisely, including book shelves that expand and contract like an accordion to fit your unique needs and space requirements.

Technologies that help individuals make the most of their limited living space will be even more critical in the next five years as the population in urban centers is set to explode. According to the World Health Organization, the global urban population will grow approximately 1.84 percent per year by 2020, which means that cities will be more crowded and the demand for affordable living space will be higher than ever. While “affordable living” may be synonymous with “tight living space” today, there are innovators like MIT Media Lab and PKMN architectures that believe that size won’t necessarily matter tomorrow. These innovators believe the key to our affordable housing challenges might not be more space, but rather finding innovative ways to make the best use out of the limited space we have.

This post was written by Suffolk Construction’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Dan Antonellis, who can be reached at Connect with him on LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter at @DanAntonellis.


  1. Megan E. Davenport

    FYI, The link says “page not found”-

    Megan Davenport • Bid Department • 585.318.1022 direct


  2. suffolkconstruction

    Thanks for letting us know Megan! We just emailed the correct link out to our followers, so hopefully they don’t miss this post.


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