Providence, Rhode Island has a hot new development in an elegant old building.
When it was built 188 years ago, the Arcade Providence was America's first shopping mall, hosting 48 different boutiques. Now those shops are being transformed into 48 tiny apartments.
Redesigned by Northeast Collaborative Architects, the three-floor building boasts classical Greek architecture: ionic columns, stone walls, and a large central atrium lit by skylights.
Ben Jacobsen/Northeast Collaborative Architects
The renovation converted the top two floors of stores into micro-apartments, ranging from 225 to 275 square feet. For comparison, a standard one-car garage is about 200 square feet.
"Our tenants only need to show up with two suitcases, and they are good to go," NCA Principal Michael Abbott tells Tech Insider.
Micro-apartments are an effort to accommodate the growing number of single people moving to cities. The number of Americans who live alone has risen steadily since the 1920s. In the past 90 years, single-person households have gone from 5% to 27% of the US total.
This phenomenon is also happening in Providence. In the past five years, more than 5,000 people have moved to Providence County (which includes downtown).
Micro-apartments are popping up across the US. There are at least 12 micro-apartment developments in construction, from New York City to Houston. City planning officials are waiving minimum square footage regulations, betting on micro-apartments as an affordable housing solution in ballooning cities.
At the Providence Arcade, each fully-furnished micro-space includes an elevated twin bed over a four-drawer dresser, a small kitchen table, a sofa, a 50-inch flatscreen TV, and a full bathroom.
The kitchens are equipped with a mini-fridge, sink, dishwasher, and microwave - but no ovens. The complex sits in the heart of downtown Providence, so residents theoretically could eat out for meals they can't zap in a microwave. The architects also preserved the central atrium as a space for shops, bars, and restaurants. Northeast Collaborative Architects/Ben Jacobsen
"Not only does it [the central atrium] provide filtered light to the units, but it becomes the 'public street' connecting neighbors," Abbott says.
On the top floor, there is a common room with arcade games and a TV. On the second floor, there are washers and dryers and storage space to park bikes or keep other belongings that don't fit in the apartments.
The building had several lives before the micro-apartments. Almost 250 of the original windows were covered with cement over the years, but NCA restored all of them.
The mall (formerly called the Westminster Arcade) was built in 1828 and was the first indoor shopping mall in the US. Operating only two hours a day (11am to 1pm), it featured a food court and boutiques by local vendors who hoped to sell to a growing suburban population. In 1976, it was declared a national Historic Landmark.
Since it didn't have an elevator, shoppers didn't want to venture to the second and third floors, Abbott says. These retailers weren't seeing much business, and the mall closed in 2008.
Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Archive Collection
Six years later, it re-opened as the micro-apartment complex after a $10 million makeover funded by private investors.
America's oldest mall went through a transformation in-line with one of the hottest housing trends: micro-apartments. They rented out immediately, Abbott says.Ben Jacobsen/Northeast Collaborative Architects
The idea behind micro-apartments is to be more efficient with city space and offer cheaper rents. To foster innovation among city planners, some cities are lifting zoning regulations to allow construction of smaller apartments at designated sites.
Rent at the Arcade Providence ($800 per month - a $250 hike from 2014) is a bit expensive for the area. On Craigslist, you can easily find re-furbished lofts, ranging from $800 to $1200, with more than double the space.
Like many cities that are experimenting with micro-apartments, it'll take more than a single building to solve a housing crisis. One one hand, it's a hip project that revitalized an otherwise abandoned space. On the other, it allows developers to charge more for smaller spaces.
Demand for these apartments remains high though. More than 400 people are still on the waiting list.