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MIT's CityHome project re-thinks small space versatility


May 28, 2014

The CityHome project solves typical spatial issues with hidden amenities controlled by hand gestures, interactive touch elements and voice commands

The CityHome project solves typical spatial issues with hidden amenities controlled by hand gestures, interactive touch elements and voice commands

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For many residents today, the idea of fitting furniture into a 600 sq ft (56 sq m) condo or apartment has become a compact reality. Now a team from MIT’s architectural program have come up with the CityHome project; a versatile appliance-like solution, designed to increase usable space by two or three times.

The adaptable CityHome project works to help solve the timeless spatial problem of "How do you configure the dining room in your micro-space so guests don’t have to sit at a work station during supper?"

The concept is relatively simple: condense all the necessary amenities, such as the bed, entertainment unit, counters, work space, cooking unit and range, furniture storage, etc. into one transformable wall system. Looking like an intricate Italian kitchen unit, the CityHome project from MIT's Kent Larson and Hasier Larrea not only solves the typical spatial issues associated with tiny condos and apartments, but does so via interactive touch elements, hand gestures, and voice control.

Internal motors connected to command units silently move out units selected by predetermined hand gestures (presumably registered by the control system using built-in cameras), so no physical effort is required. One gesture could, for example, draw the bed out of its space. Another instructs it to return to its original position, and then a work desk can be moved out (which also doubles as a dining table for six).

The team has also applied gestural commands to the lighting system, so that residents can adjust the ambiance in any area of the room as needed, and for control of the window blinds.

Touch sensors on either side of the modular unit control additional motors that can move it across the room a few feet in either direction. The shifting ability allows for users to expand the main living/sleeping/entertaining space, while reducing the size of the bathroom, or vice versa.

From a functional and ergonomic perspective, the bathroom, toilet and shower arrangement clearly needs further consideration. But the concept of providing a versatile living space for those crammed into undersized accommodations definitely has potential.

Larson's group is currently working on a plan to bring the CityHome to production, either through crowdfunding or through a sponsorship arrangement.

To see the CityHome unit in action, check out the video below.

Source: MIT Media

About the Author
Angus MacKenzie Born on the cold, barren Canadian plains of Calgary, Alberta, Angus MacKenzie couldn’t decide between marketing, automotives or an entrepreneurial path - so he chose all three. With an education in automotives and marketing, Angus has rebuilt the carburetor on his 1963 Rambler Ambassador twice, gotten a speeding ticket in an F430 once, and driven & photographed everything from Lamborghinis to Maseratis to various German and Asian designs. When not writing, Angus has for the past six years been Editor-in-Chief for elemente, an internationally recognized architecture/design magazine. All articles by Angus MacKenzie

The floorplan reminds me of the Aloft hotel rooms where the headboard of the bed serves as a wall for the sink area.

Aloft is one of the only hotel rooms I have been in where I felt like the room was designed by engineers instead of interior decorators. There is a vid someone took of one of the rooms here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qom8wzRRvA

One of the things Aloft does right in their floorplan is they have a mirror door between the sink area and the toilet/shower. This allows the sink area to serve 2 functions without being in the bathroom so someone using the shower doesn't prevent someone else from doing makeup/brushing teeth etc.

Another thing Aloft gets mostly right (for a hotel) is they omit a lot of useless dresser space that often serves as storage space for a single bible that is still done as some kind of 1800's superstition or something and replaces it with room to set and store luggage. I always find it strange when I walk into a hotel room with no place other than the floor or the other bed to set my luggage.

Another cool thing about their design is the little media box you can use to charge electronics (AC, USB etc.) or drive the TV from a laptop or Netflix streamer (useful for people who travel like this http://i.imgur.com/vZKCLLA.jpg ). Even though it's a hotel room it's one of the better small space designs I have seen.

It's not posh but I feel like aside from a flatter TVs most hotel rooms probably haven't really evolved in 50+ years.


I think that is a really neat idea. It gives more space and utility where there space is at a premium. Perhaps there could be a non-motorized version so people could use their muscles (exercise) to change things? It could also lower the price too.

I think it could also be used for small houses too. One could build a one room house and put it inside. I have seen (online) some really small houses that this would be perfect for.


Am I the only one who thought of Fith Element and Corbin's apartment?


Their website http://cp.media.mit.edu/research/67-cityhome is not available.

Kris Lee

The idea seems to need a bit of work yet, but has hope. Don't really like the hand guestures though, what if someone is reclining on the bed and another waves? Does he/she disappear into the module, like the old sitcom joke of the Murphy Bed folding back into the wardrobe? And what happens to the plates etc. on the 'dining table' if the wrong move is made? The possibilities for disaster are endless . . .

The Skud

Nice but the big issue is that wastewater somehow has to be led out of the moving box. I'm sure that can be solved but to me a failure in those mechanics seems to be a big and expensive risk.

Conny Söre

Good idea, even if it's too over complicated by the sensors and hand gestures.

The only drawback is the workstation; I'd rather have a design where I don't have clear out my computer, papers, books, etc. just to stop and sip my soylent :-)


It's a sad and cramped future. Feeling closter phobic. Definitely Fifth element(Bruce Willis scifi.movie) influence.


Yess, the speaking tools that constitute the 99% has to be stored somewhere when not at work as the rich indulge themself in multiple mansions scattered around the world.

Andrej Radoš

The sliding sinks seem problematic to me. They would require flexible drains.

John Barnhart

I actually live in, for the past three years, in a space that measures twenty by ten that has a Nano-kitchen, bath and living/sleeping area. My living/sleeping are is actually ten by ten. In this make-believe living space, no one has actually lived in it, for it was designed for the purpose of show and not for the real world. It would be great if they designed and built it, and then for a whole year had someone test the validity of the design of what would happen if some real person lived in it. If a person has a library of real books; where do they go? How about one's dirty laundry? Where do you put you wardrobe? In other words; how does the theory stand up? They should do a year long investigation on someone living in this cubical for a year or more; then they should say if this design is a success or failure.

Kristianna Thomas
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