7 Innovative Buildings Designed to Fit Tight Urban Spaces


Cramped, labyrinthine city space can be as alluring as it is claustrophobic. While some people yearn for vast uninterrupted landscapes and stretching horizons, others are drawn to squeeze themselves into an efficiency apartment that’s smaller than the average half-bathroom. With skyrocketing real estate prices and little room left to build in cities like New York or Tokyo, architects have begun to rethink the use of modern urban space.

As most architects, designers, and artists know, limitations can sometimes be much more creatively fruitful than facing endless possibilities. Rather than resort to rebuilding city space, the following seven examples of confined architecture take head on the challenge of limitation. Each of these designs is inspired by efficiency, envisioning novel ways of building around the issue of congestion.

Photo credit: Smithsonian

Described as a “luxury residential tower in a culture of congestion,” Rem Koolhaas’s unbuilt design for 23 East 22nd Street in New York is a playful take on the traditional high rise. Koolhaas’ well known treatise Delirious New York helped to establish him as an architectural gadfly of overcrowded spaces. The building design uses cantilevers, which allow it to rise up from the confined city block and contort to one side like a passenger on a crowded commuter train.

Photo credits: Architonic

Rather than compete for space, the Parasite Office is designed to leach off of existing alleys and gaps between buildings. Russian practice Za Bor Architects conceived of the idea of a hanging, multifunctional, and organic-looking structure that makes use of Moscow’s tight spaces without interrupting the flow of street movement.

Photo credits: Architizer

Japan is known for its jam-packed subway cars, its tight living spaces, and its dense architecture. Tokyo-based Yasuhiro Yamashita is the master architect of ultra-tiny living. However, his famous Lucky Drops demonstrates that even at just ten feet wide, a home can convey an expansive feel, using very thin, translucent walls to evoke the airy quality of a traditional Japanese lantern.

Photo credits: Inhabitat

If you’re not feeling claustrophobic enough yet, take a look at Centrala’s super-slender masterpiece, the Keret House. This excruciatingly minimalist design looks to sandwich a narrowly habitable space between two existing buildings in Warsaw. Just don’t expect to host too many dinner parties.

Photo credits: Designboom

In the midst of Japan’s famously hyper-congested urban centers, Yoshiaki Oyabu shows that what would otherwise be neglected space can be repurposed in novel ways. Open Architecture uses very basic design to create a multi-purpose, vertical public space in a narrow alleyway amid Osaka’s dense residential sprawl, serving as a playground, a venue, and a place to nurture community interaction.

Photo credits: eVolo

This “green innovative house” puts a futuristic spin on space-saving modular housing in the density of urban Bangkok. Achawin Laohavichairat, Montakan Manosong, and Peerapon Karunwiwat designed this very alien-looking concept eco-house to attach to existing structures without sacrificing livability, infrastructure, or green space.

Photo credits: Archdaily

The Dutch architecture and urban planning firm Waterstudio makes use of Low Country resourcefulness as a response to the threats of overpopulation and rising ocean levels driven by global climate change. The Citadel is a floating apartment complex that embraces water rather than struggles against it, using efficient water cooling design to reduce energy consumption up to 25% and extending urban space to waterways and coastline.