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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.

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The Studio Apartment

The Studio Apartment

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

The Condo

Contemporary real estate developments, serving an upper income lifestyle. Condominiums, or condos, are individually-owned apartment units with communal ownership of amenities such as a lobby, elevator and laundry. Condos are built with buyers in mind as the market, not renters, which incentivizes developers to include more premium materials and finishes tailored to the preferences of the upper class.
The Boarding House

The Boarding House

A starting point for individuals making their own way in life. As professionals migrate to Industrial-era New York for work opportunities, boarding houses offer affordable accommodation, daily meals and a sense of community. For young adults, boarding houses serve as a transition ground between leaving their parents’ home and starting a family.
The Single Resident Occupancy

The Single Resident Occupancy

Hotels repurposed as low-cost housing. With growing demand for affordable permanent housing in the early 1900s, vacant hotels in New York are converted into Single Resident Occupancies (SROs). SRO tenants inhabit compact private rooms and share access to communal bathrooms and kitchens. Today, SROs are disappearing as real estate developers seek more profitable ventures.
The Suburban Home

The Suburban Home

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

The Supportive Housing

A city’s response to increasing homelessness. 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, or 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

Illustrations
Emily Bell Dinan

Design Consulting
Dalit Shalom
Nitzan Hermon

Fabrication Cosultant
Shir David

A special thank you
Jes K Fan, Lior Zalmanson, Shalev Moran, Cara Francis, Kristin Lucas, Yotam Rozin, 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