Plenty of smart micro-living arrangements take inspiration from tiny spaces such as boat interiors and airplane bathrooms. But three Italian designers from the research center Cibic Workshop and the design collaborative Comodo have a secret weapon that the current crop of mall dwellings and high-design dorm rooms lacks. In an epiphany at once inspired and cynical, the group identified a crucial population with untapped expertise in adapting tiny spaces: prisoners.
Last week in Milan, Aldo Cibic, Tommaso Corà, and Marco Tortoioli Ricci unveiled a prototype for a 96-square-foot micro-apartment modeled after a jail cell. Inmates from Italy's high-security prison in Spoleto served as consultants on the project, which in a strange twist of doublespeak was dubbed Freedom Room.
As dystopian as the prisoners' assignment sounds, the project actually grew out of a social program at Spoleto. For the past ten years Comodo has offered training in design and graphics to inmates, and the micro-apartment project extends those educational efforts by looping in prisoners who work in Spoleto's wood shop to help design more livable cells.
In their conversations with prisoners, the designers learned how they make every inch of their space count. "Living under restraint has led many inmates in Italian prisons, out of necessity, to reinvent the space in their cells as well as the way they use many of the items inside," the designers write on the Freedom Room website. Many a Spoleto cell is lined with shelving made from cigarette cartons—a lifehack born of neccessity, not boredom and too much BoingBoing.
Naturally, the inmates packed the Freedom Room with storage. Inhabitants sleep on storage, sit on storage, and even pass through it: The doorway dividing the bed from the living area even doubles as a shelf. But all that ingenuity lends an aura of lifehackery to a design that undercuts even the tiniest micro-units we've seen. At under 100 square feet, this micro-unit concept is less than half the size of the 220-square-foot apartmentlets San Francisco recently approved—and a quarter the square footage of the larger micro-units under way in New York. It's so tiny that the counter is a cutting board that slides over the sink, and the photographer couldn't back up far enough from the mini kitchen-bathroom to capture them in one frame.
The designers see applications for student housing, hostels, and, rather ominously, affordable housing. That's one market that would be wise to steer clear of comparisons with jail.
All photos courtesy of Freedom Room