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August 22, 2018

Why adaptable design of smaller apartments could encourage more movement?

There is an increasing evidence about the importance of physical movement for our and wellbeing and we are being constantly told “sitting is the new smoking”. The research particularly shows the numerous health benefits of walking, as the simplest mode of movement, for calming the mind and improving fitness. There are now many fitness trackers and mobile apps, which can count the number of steps encouraging to do at least 10000 steps a day. According to the research at Standford University, a few minutes of walking, particularly multiple times in the day can substantially increase our ability to see things from different angles, and boosts creativity. However, we often presume physical movement requires a large indoor and equipped space (such as the Gym) or an outdoor setting. A quick look at 2017 Apartment Development Standards[1],also shows that the element of bodily movement inside the unit apartments is not explicitly identified as one of the main criteria. Interestingly, the same researchers at Stanford University also found that walking indoor can have the same advantageous of outdoor movement.

This finding has important implications in the design of more dynamic apartments as there are times for all of us when we get stuck inside due to extreme weather conditions or other reasons. This is even trickier in the design of smaller apartments, where we would assume there is less room for moving around the space. Changing our perception of the apartment ‘size’ could help to find potentials for physical movement in small-size apartments[2]. In fact having been living in a studio apartment recently, I have experienced even more physical movement than my previous bigger apartments. The studio has a wall-bed with an open plan and knowing that I’d need to transform the space for different functions, I selected more adjustable furniture. While walking is a basic and important mode of physical activity, ‘movement’ can also entail physical maneuvering in the space in different body positions and postures. For instance, adjusting the furniture at different times of the day and redefining the room for a new function. This actually encourages lots of movement for re-adjusting the furniture as well as reordering the spatial settings to transform the living space into a workspace or the dining into a space for sleeping. As someone, who has always been physically active, I have actually found these movements pretty effective, particularly on those days when I have to stay inside for long hours to meet a project deadline.
While, more traditional examples of in-built furniture, such as wall-beds or flexible fittings, which popped up during modernism, is a good example of flexible spaces that promote more physical movement, but the question today for us is how to more holistically incorporate this flexibility in the design of apartment buildings. This is even more important with the increasing demand for residential development of small pockets of urban land in response to affordable housing. It is important to consider that other than a flexible interior design layout, the continuity of movement outside and through the building is an important factor in rethinking the ‘size’ and looking at the shared spaces as an extension of the interior. For instance, shared facilities could be spatially distributed in the apartment block in a way that it encourages the residents to move around and up and down the building through ramps and stairs or the lift. Hence, an adaptable configuration of the design layout inside and outside the units and consideration of flexible fittings and fixtures can actually encourage more bodily movement.


Future Living System by the Innovation in Applied Design Lab at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning and Lendlease.

There are also the generation of modular apartment design, where every piece of furniture is reconfigurable and adaptable to different functionalities. Other than a dynamic lifestyle that such setting requires, it encourages creativity and the idea of living with “less stuff” and leaving more room for a flexible setting. It is yet important to consider the balance between the need for the resident’s constant engagement with reconfiguration of the apartment and their ability to enjoy the space as it is. The context and continuity of movement outside and between the units and communal spaces is another important factor for the design of more active buildings. Overall, it seems like there are so many potentials in exploring the possibilities for adaptive design of small-size apartments, which could lead into a more affordable living but also offer opportunities for a more active and mindful lifestyle.
[1] Department of Environment, Land, Water and planning of Victoria, 2017
[2] Dr. Kirsten Day, “Live in a small place? An interior designer’s tips to create the illusion of space”.