a specimen collection of human habitats and the people that reside alone in them

Since the 1950s, the number of people who live by themselves is growing exponentially. In the 10,000 year history of human civilization, this is the first documented period where large proportions of the population occupy their own, individual, dwelling. Today more than half of the residents of Manhattan live alone. The Watertight collection is an incomplete archive of infrastructure that supports single-occupant living in New York City.


The Process

As the depth information of the environment is collected, the software program Skanect converts the data points into a visual representation in digital form, known as a mesh.  Once the mesh is complete, the specimen is prepared for archiving. A computative process, called watertight”, translates the virtual representation into a format suitable for 3D printing. This algorithm rounds up the geometry of the mesh, filling holes, interpolating missing features, and estimating corrections for data errors. 

The physical replicas of the habitats are created through additive manufacture with a Stratasys J750 printer. The 3D prints are made of thousands of layers of a liquid photopolymer which is cured under ultraviolet light. This photopolymer is an acrylate plastic, and is predicted to retain its structure indefinitely. 


The Studio

Family homes subdivided into more profitable, single spaces.
Gentrification reverses suburban exodus. The inherited housing infrastructure in the city is adapted to suit the rising preference to live alone. One-family row houses are renovated and subdivided into multiple studio apartments. This makes buildings more profitable for landlords and more affordable for tenants. In 1987, to prevent overcrowding, zoning laws pass dictating that a New York apartment must be a minimum of 400 square feet. Continual innovation in architecture and design allows for more efficient use of space. In 2013, the mayor approves new “micro-apartments” as small as 260 square feet.

The Condo

Contemporary real estate developments, serving an upper income lifestyle.
Higher demand for city living leads to more capital investment and the construction of new buildings that can be tailored to the needs and tastes of the upper class.
Condominiums, or condos, are individually-owned apartment units with communal ownership of amenities such as a lobby, elevator and laundry. This type of housing is built with buyers in mind as the market, not renters, which incentivizes developers to include more premium materials and finishes.
During the economic boom in the early 2000s, and again from 2010 onwards, more new condos continue to emerge, both in Manhattan and outlying neighborhoods.

The Boarding House

 A starting point for individuals making their own way in life.

s professionals migrate to Industrial-era New York for work opportunities, boarding houses become the main form of accommodation for singles. Boarding houses offer affordable accommodation, daily meals and a sense of community. Houses are typically separate for men or women, and affiliated with a particular religion, ethnicity or profession. For young adults, boarding houses serve as a transition ground between leaving their parents’ home and starting a family.

The Single Resident Occupancy

Hotels repurposed as low-cost housing

Vacant hotels in New York are converted into Single Resident Occupancies (SROs) to meet the demand for affordable permanent housing as new migrants arrive in New York in the early 1900s. SRO tenants inhabit compact private rooms and share access to communal bathrooms and kitchens. 
From the 1950s, as citizens relocate to the suburbs, the reduced tax base impacts the quality of infrastructure in the city center. Property values decrease and buildings fall into disrepair. Landlords do not maintain the SROs and they begin to resemble slums.
Today, SROs are disappearing as real estate developers seek more profitable ventures.

The Suburbs

Constructed residential idealism. 
After the Second World War, the age of suburbia begins. The US government invests heavily in expanding road infrastructure, allowing citizens to extend the distance between their home and their place of work. New policies also offer subsidies for home loans. At the same time, fear of black migration from the rural south of America to New York prompts white New Yorkers to join segregated communities in the newly-built suburbs. 13% of New York City’s population (~800,000 people) leaves between 1970 and 1980.
Suburban homeownership is more common among married couples than single occupants. However, as the original suburban population ages, many residents end up living alone. Now, females account for 30% more of the single-resident households in New York than males, largely due to elderly women outliving their spouses.

The Supportive Housing

A city’s response to increasing homelessness.

New York’s municipal shelter system
counts 61,277 homeless people in April 2017. Black New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by homelessness and make up 58% of shelter residents.
Supportive housing is a state-subsidized initiative where residents live independently in free or low-cost housing and receive wellness services.  It is an intervention to reduce homelessness among individuals with a history of mental illness, trauma, abuse, addiction, HIV/AIDS or other chronic illness. There are at least 50,000 supportive housing households in New York today.

Created by
Caitlin Robinson & Ziv Schneider

3D Printing
Laguardia Studio, NYU

Emily Bell Dinan

A Special Thank You

Tali Keren, Dalit Shalom, Nitzan Hermon, Shir David, Jes K Fan, Lior Zalmanson, Shalev Moran, Cara Francis, Kristin Lucas, Yotam Rozin, Bethany Tabor, David Sheinkopf, Katherine Dillon, and the people who have let us into their homes and allowed us to capture them: Alee, Amelia, Dalit, Emily, Jerry, Lamora, Margaret, Marc, Mei-Ling, Rob, Shir, Thelma and Vitaly

More Details – Contact 


and the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, TISCH NYU


Made with the kind support of: