A Smart City, beyond the Smart Apartment

micro apt.phpRecently a couple of my connections  commented on a post of this link to a video about a Smart Apartment

The video is pretty  cool, it reminds me of the modern motor home with pop ups and pop outs, but it is more interesting and probably much less practical, because nothing pops up or out, the space is limited from the outside, unlike the motor home or camper that is only limited while on the road.

One basically has to rebuild your living space three to four times per day. This  includes putting boards on your bath tub  too make it a sofa (you also have to store the boards and the cushions, and it looks as comfortable as a bad futon (arent all futons bad?)

GEORGE WU, A.I.A.伍荣基 ARCHITECT, a Chinese trained  architect, who has spent most of his career in New York, and is currently in love with container housing, suggests an alternative is container built cities linked to the mega city by bullet trains.

I do think the 300 sq ft  home for four people is not a viable solution in most cases. That’s 75 sq ft per  person. Most jails dedicate more individual space than that! I think less than 200 sq ft per  person is getting impractical, no matter how many walls you move. The problem is that in the worlds  major  cities, from Peking to New York, London, Rome, and so on, the sq ft cost of real estate, plus the actual building cost gets so high that 300 sq ft looks like it MUST be an option, because it costs over million USD  and that is at the top of  the range for most working people, maybe  three  times the realistic range of MOST working people.

But I wonder if the train ride to a “bedroom community” isn’t just a modified  version of the  1960-1980s growth of suburbia, that is pretty much now seen as a failed experiment. While I am neither  a fan nor  an enemy of container housing.


1) Its already built and it is  very sturdy (assuming you dont cut too many, too large  holes in it.

2) Its cheap, about $2000, per  20 ft long by 8 ft wide, by 8 ft high. (40 ft long is available at even lower sq ft pricing)

3) they are designed to be stacked, so they are ideal components for apartments.


1) They  are very limited in size,though you can cut and weld, but the  basic unit is still 8 x 8 x 20 (or 40), and most of  us like rooms wider than 8 ft, in fact, they are less than 8  feet, because  the interior  wall has to be built inside the steel wall. This can be overcome by setting say three containers side by side and cutting out one wall on each end section and two walls on the middle section. This would give you a 24 x  20 room, ideal  for a great room, or two units set side by side for a 16 x 20  bedroom, and so  on. One can get creative, but that is still a lot of steel cutting and waste.

2) Land is the issue, even more than the cost of construction. If you gave me a lot in the city center, I could frame up a wood frame house for $5-6 per linear foot, pour the  slab for $2 per sq foot. Roofing would be a bit more expensive, but not much, you are still very close to the same $12.50 for a shell, maybe $15, but you have unlimited flexibility of design, you can build on site. With the containers, they would have to have tons of hours of  steel cutting tools in an industrial setting and then transported to the location to be finished out.

I can tell you  from years in construction, having large components that need to fit together in a custom manner leads to lots of  headaches, and heavy duty steel is not easy to manipulate for your average carpenter.

The container does not have  Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC, wall, floor and ceiling finishes, insulation, or an interior wall, for that matter. In short, containers are a viable option, but not a great breakthrough compared to traditional wood or CBS.

Enough on Mr. Wu’s containers, no matter what you use for builing material, the question remains: How  do  we solve  the $1,000,000 tiny apartment problem in a green and sustainable way?

The micro apartment is interesting and may have limited appeal in extremely dense and expensive residential areas, such as the world’s largest cities.

We also looked at container housing as an option and high speed rail connected distance living arrangements. The problem is none of these solve the long term issues of higher paying jobs being located in the city center and the cost, both in dollars and environmental impact and generally on the quality of life.

One wonders if there were an intelligent plan not only to design walkable cities with residential, retail, light industrial and office space in a healthy mix. One could, through tax policy and other incentives encourage “anchor corporations” to locate to these areas and draw populations away from the massive mega cities. If a series of mini cities and even a few major new cities could be used, say in America to draw the populations from the 10 biggest metropolis areas.


One would not need a high speed rail for commuters, but it might still facilitate the interconnectedness of these new cities to be dotted every hour of high speed or 3 hours of highway traffic. Wherever they are best suited to be located, it would seem useful to all concerned. I am not an urban planner, but I am certain there are people much more knowledgeable about the matter who can determine the appropriate size, location, frequency of such new cities.

The “Smart City” would need to have enough mass to attract and maintain a core of everything, builders, office workers, factories (clean and safe enough to located in the mix, of course), schools, students, school teachers, hospitals, cops, and so on. Like the Micro apartment that started this off, the city would need to be well thought out, but it would need enough flexibility to fill the needs not only of society at large, but of the individuals who choose to make it home. The structure and function could be designed in, but the culture must come from within and radiate out of the citizens themselves. Otherwise these cities would be destined to fail and so many planned societies have in the past.


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