Micro-units, or apartments intentionally built to be under 450 sq ft, are cropping up all over the Innovation District. But is this a passing trend or an option with real potential? 

Boston-based architect Aeron Hodges says the path to designing micro-units came all the way from the top. “In 2010, Mayor Menino challenged a few architects to come up with appropriate housing for the newer generation in the innovation district. But what we found was that most people couldn’t even afford to live there.”

RELATED: Is East Cambridge ready to be a trendy place to live?

Hodges’ firm Stantec decided to look towards micro-units as a potential way for people to afford living in the most desirable urban areas. These new apartments, coming in between 285 and 450 square feet, offer a compact and minimalistic living space. Though the units are small, they’re in buildings full of modern amenities, often including rooftop lounges and beautiful communal areas. 

While some are skeptical of living small, people like Hodges and Hasier Larrea, an engineer and designer at the MIT media lab, think these micro-units hold serious future promise. 

This year Stantec collaborated with CityHome, the part of the MIT media lab lead by Larrea. He and his team are investigating how moving furniture can minimize the space needed to live comfortably.

“People really don’t want to live in tiny, cramped, conventional spaces.” Larrea explains. “We are trying to bring robotics, engineering and technology to the world of real estate and architecture. We’ve been doing things the same way for quite a while, and we need new solutions.” 

“We call what we do: furniture with super powers. Making your architectural elements, things like walls, beds, tables and closets effortlessly transformable, in a magical manner if possible.” This means clunky items, like your bed and kitchen table, could disappear with the wave of a hand, making 400 square feet a lot more palatable to spend time in. 

While robotic furniture is still in its prototype phase, Larrea and his team, who are forming a company out of MIT, hope that they can transform the experience of living in a small space. “Urban space is too valuable to be as static and unresponsive as it is these days,” he says.