URBIA Furniture System for Small Apartments in Big Cities, prefabricated modular residential interiors system by OBRA
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URBIA Furniture System for Small Apts in Big Cities

New York, New York
March 2007
Installed September 2007


ID Annual Design Award Winner
2011 AIANY Design Award

In collaboration with Site Assembly, Terry Chance

Over the past few years the technological developments related to digital fabrication have become a sort of David's sling in the design process, significantly expanding the range of what can be done with limits of time, resources or even budgets. Opening up a new way of thinking about manufacturing and assembling, they have fused into the development of design work fostering the emergence of new ways of expression by imposing limitations and affording freedoms at the same time. The URBIA SYSTEM OF FURNITURE EXPANSION FOR SMALL APARTMENTS IN BIG CITIES reevaluates the age-old problem of trying to make the most with the least, while imagining what an urban existence of minimal materiality would feel like while affording also the possibility of "disassembling your house and taking it with you." The concept is a furniture-based interior construction system that defines an architectural environment.

There are in all big cities, some neighborhoods that attract with the irresistible promise of a life of urban loafing, suggesting to our fancy perpetual pedestrian investigations and as little time spent at home as possible. Familiar to flaneurs of Tokyo, Paris, New York or Buenos Aires, these neighborhoods are often characterized by the large amounts of typical rents and the rather small size of available apartments. Those addicted to this kind of urban lifestyle are nomads at heart who must constantly drift between plazas, boulevards and cafés often only returning home in an inevitable concession to sleep and clean laundry. For them, home does not need to be large, since the pleasures of the city are intrinsically incompatible with the commitments to tend to large property or manage an abundance of personal possessions. Our Furniture Expansion System for Small Apartments in Big Cities, is designed for such lifestyles of minimal materiality—even if it is lopsided since these types tend to accumulate large book or shoe collections, vices that one day suddenly surprise with unexpected demands for additional room.

The System is composed of hollow wood panels and cabinet units that can partition a space vertically or horizontally depending on the potential of the existing interior. These units are designed for maximum structural performance, minimum weight and ease of installation, relying on hollow 1/2" ash plywood construction and a maximum size of 2x8 feet that fits through doors and onto elevator cabs. The system can be deployed vertically to define partitions or horizontally to create loft floors by staggering the 8-foot panels to reinforce each other to a span up to 20 feet. It allows maximum use of minimum space with the possibility of endless reconfiguration and the potential of taking the rooms with you when moving out. Manufactured off-site utilizing CNC technology and requiring only dry assembly for installation, the panel construction relies on the use of semi-concealed fasteners, which punctuate the surfaces with access openings characterizing walls and floors with an "unintentional" ornamentation derived from necessities of assembly.