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Cubix, San Francisco: Housing Before its Time.

Cubix Micro-apartments in SoMa, San Francisco. Via Creative Commons / Dave Fayram

Cubix Micro-apartments in SoMa, San Francisco. Via Creative Commons / Dave Fayram

Cubix is an apartment complex in the Soma neighborhood of San Francisco. Developed by HausBau, It consists of 98 “micro-apartments” that were some of the lowest-priced properties on market at around $280k when introduced in 2008 when SF’s median home price was around $759k. The kicker? The dorm-style studios were – and still are – some of the smallest apartments available for purchase at between 250-350 s.f.

 

Typical unit kitchenette. Via Creative Commons / Curbed SF.

Typical unit kitchenette. Via Creative Commons / Curbed SF.

 

Other interior photos may be seen here at SFGate.com, where they describe the space as “about the size of seven ping-pong tables” – a metric I hope is soon adopted industry-wide.

Finishes are higher-end, which is the first thing to separate a unit from your typical dorm. There are other attractions beyond the price, mostly in the fact that the complex is centrally located in the city with a Walk Score of 97/100 (There’s a Whole Foods next door).

The development is remarkable still  because even today, most micro-units and other offerings of similar size are marketed as rentals, not for sale. With the deflation of the housing bubble well underway, Cubix was an experiment in how small a living space people would tolerate. Buying meant a long-term investment in living like a student, as opposed to temporarily renting a small apartment to accumulate a downpayment for something bigger. And indeed, Cubix had to slash its prices and offer lease-to-buy options. According to Curbed SF (who followed the project very closely since its inception), the project went into default, is still owned by the bank, and units went on sale for around 200k after the housing crisis.

However, as of 2012, every unit has been sold, and now developers in the city are looking to build more of the same, or even smaller. This is likely because the city is in the middle of a growing housing shortage. Real estate prices have been climbing steadily, and it’s not hard to argue that desperation played a part in this. See this page for a 10-year history of median housing prices in SF, as well as for SoMa.

I’ve been reading through old Curbed posts pertaining to Cubix from 2008 when it went on sale. Curbed SF was (and is still) skeptical of the project, to put it generously. Assessments of the unit size is described in one report as “oppressively claustrophobic,” and “awesome dorm, terrible condo.” Other criticism for Cubix and similar projects is that the size is dangerously close to the point where it will cause “psychological problems.”

However, more recent reviews (not on Curbed, which hasn’t posted about the development since 2010) are remarkably brighter. Yelp reviewers don’t seem to mind the space, and there’s no mention of claustrophobia. I would say the interior photographs don’t make it seem so either. And every unit is now sold. Perhaps combination of skyrocketing housing prices and high-end finishes has made Cubix look like a great deal. What’s considered acceptable has decreased, in terms of size; it was just a few years ahead of its time.

 

Shared rooftop space. Shared amenities like outdoor decks, cafes, and lounges are integral to projects like Cubix to make them more livable.

Shared rooftop space. Shared amenities like outdoor decks, cafes, and lounges are integral to projects like Cubix to make them more livable. Via Creative Commons / Curbed SF

 

So, was it only the increase in housing prices? The up-and-coming neighborhood? Or were people more open to the idea of Cubix for other reasons? Again, Cubix may be indicative of changing attitudes because people have bought units, not simply rented them.

Criticism of Cubix brings up other questions, though. How small can you go without creating “psychological problems?” Is there a limit? Surely you can go crazy in a windowless cell, but perhaps there’s to it, in terms of spatial quality. We need to dig up some studies in the near future.

 

Thanks to Dave Riess for initially turning me on to this project.

One Response

  1. […] immigrants lived with their multigenerational families in inhumane conditions out of necessity. Micro-apartments, on the other hand, house single, college graduates who earn enough to move out of their […]

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