One of the largely-unheralded casualties of the most recent property bubble in both the United Kingdom and the United States is a group whose relative lack of access to the corridors of power often sees it ignored by policymakers: young adults. With prices for housing – whether rented or purchased – long in parodic territory in metropolises such as London and New York, the lack of posited solutions for such an obvious problem is one of the genuine intellectual disappointments of the twenty-first century. Well-intended proposals such as microflats – tiny apartments that seem designed for large rodents rather than anything approaching a humanoid – have only served to highlight the lack of imagination evident in addressing this crisis; many young professionals have turned to internal or external migration as the only viable exit.
It was with this in mind that our CSO was struck by a novel form of housing being formulated at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (‘MIT Media Lab’). The CityHome is an 840ft² property the main room of which – via the use of robotic walls, appliances and furniture – can transform into any number of large rooms at the flick of a switch. One minute it can be a large dining room with space for up to fourteen people; the next, a home gym; the next, a large kitchen. While the project is still very much under development and its limitations for anything other than one-person occupancy are clear, the massive corporate underwriting of the MIT Media Lab means that should the construction industry find this idea a winner, CityHomes could soon be making their way into a newly-constructed apartment block near you.
As brilliant an idea as it is, however, the CityHome does not address the ultimate question of its own perceived necessity. Would there be any need for such electronic ingenuity in the event of a simple rise in interest rates which would end subsidised money and rebalance the housing market? As red ink soaks the balance sheets of financial institutions in both the great financial centres of the last century, it seems almost churlish to ask.