In February, I, along with real estate developer Bobby Fijan, went on the Bloomberg podcast Odd Lots to talk about why it’s so hard to find a family-sized apartment in the United States. I argued that North American zoning and building codes work together to drive up the size of multi-bedroom apartments in particular, putting them financially out of reach for many parents raising children. In other words, even if developers built more two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments, you probably wouldn’t be able to afford one, because they would have to be so much larger than units with the same number of bedroom in Europe or Asia.
This is fundamentally an issue of space, and it’s hard to convey over a podcast. So I worked with architect and Center for Building board member Michael Eliason – founder of Larch Lab, which introduced many North Americans to the concept of point access block apartment buildings – to visualize the problem. He drew some floor plans for apartments built to North American codes, and then a few built to more European codes. The plans show how, as a North American architect tries to add bedrooms, the size – and therefore cost – of the apartment balloons faster than it would in a point access block design in Europe or Asia.
In North America, apartments are typically laid out off of a double-loaded corridor – lots of apartments arrayed on either side of a single long hallway, like in a hotel. Each apartment generally has windows facing only one direction, with the opposite wall up against the hallway, and the other two sides up against other units in the same building. As the site grows, the central corridor is simply stretched out, and more apartments are added off of an even longer hallway. In the case of the typical design that we’re using to illustrate this design (first image, showing a segment of a much larger building), each hallway has 29 feet of space on either side, so each apartment is 29 feet in depth, with windows only on one side.