Contemporary micro-apartments, which are between 50 and 350 square feet, started appearing en masse in New York City a few years ago. Marketed mostly to Millennials as an affordable housing option, they are actually a modern reincarnation of the single occupancy unit (SRO), which was popular in Manhattan in the 1950s and 60s. The new version of the micro-apartment is often added amid conventionally-sized units in apartment buildings; a few buildings are even dedicated to them.
In Guangzhou, China, the model has been scaled up into an entire community of tiny urban living spaces for young tech workers and their families. The Guangzhou Vanke Cloud City in Guangzhou, China, is a mixed-use community made up of four residential towers with 5,000 micro-apartments combined with office space for high-tech firms, a middle school, shopping, and restaurants.
The cloud in Cloud City refers to the information technology platform that enables data sharing. That cloud also helps defines the physical platform of the community. Just as an image forms out of many pixels, hosted as 0s and 1s in the cloud, the landscape of Guangzho Vanke Cloud City arises out of a modular, grid system.
Vanke, a major developer in China, with some $33 billion in revenue in 2018, has mixed-use developments across the country. For the Guangzhou Vanke Cloud City, they brought in Chinese landscape architecture firm Lab D+H to create a fun, tech-inspired landscape for the young cloud workers they hope to attract.
According to the firm, “with small apartments, young people can continue living in first-tier cities, enjoying rich career opportunities, modern facilities, comprehensive public services, and access to cutting-edge information.”
In the northwest corner of the community is the 6,000-square-meter Tetris Square, which shares elements of the design language of that classic game. From the aerial view, pieces of the plaza seem like they could turn and slot into place at any moment.
In Landezine, the firm states that there are playgrounds on either side of the square corridor. These include the Family Pocket, a place to swing in hammocks, and the Free Island, which is a “three-dimensional play facility for kids to explore spaces and exercise.”
There are more tech-inspired public spaces: the Cloud Curtain, the Cloud Mount, and the Cloud Pavilion. In front of the shopping mall, there is an amphitheater that also acts as an outdoor classroom for the middle school.
Lab D+H argues that trees are often minimized in Chinese plazas because they are seen as blocking views of shops and restaurants. The firm managed to slip in a grove of trees by integrating it into Family Pocket and Free Island. Trees are also arranged in a “dense-to-sparse” gradient order heading towards the mall.
The firm designed a pixelated approach to the landscape design and construction. “From softscape, to paving, to outdoor furniture and installation, landscape elements are arranged on this modular system so that they are easy to construct, assemble, and replace.”
The modular format also helped save money and reduce construction challenges. “The grid system of squares not only makes material fabrication and arrangement much cheaper, but also make construction costs more predictable and controllable, especially in China where construction quality is often unpredictable.”
Furniture is designed out of just two modules of pre-cast concrete, which are then assembled into 20 combinations. Pixels form the image.