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How Much Is That Lady In The Window? by Iain Aitch

With 57% of Londoners earning less than $34,000 a year and the average one-bedroom apartment anywhere near the centers of work and nightlife costing $275,000, living in London just doesn’t seem to add up. Piercy Conner Architects have come up with what they think will be the solution: small, prefabricated, factory-built units which can be slotted into specially built shells on small plots of land or occupy economical spaces above supermarkets.

These “Microflats”, which at 345 square feet are one-third smaller than the average starter apartment in London, would provide stylish housing at less than $145,000 per unit. The Microflat dwellers would, according to the architects, live a Microlife with those of a similar age and status and enjoy features such as an intranet and communal leisure facilities.

To launch the Microflat, and to see how it would work for real, Piercy Conner cooked up a scheme to build one in the window of the popular London department store, Selfridges. They then held an open competition for two Micronauts, one male and one female, who would live in the flat under public scrutiny for one week each.

Catching sight of the tiny Microflat whilst walking down bustling Oxford Street, it looks no different from any other tightly-packed department store window, with its sofa, television and shining kitchen equipment. Inside the Micronauts stare out on to London’s busiest shopping street, living mannequins for one week only.

Occupying the shop window for the second week was 24-year-old Hélène Cacace, a marketing researcher who currently lives near Oxford with her parents.

What made you want to live your life in public for a week?

I’m really interested in the Microlife idea itself. I think that the actual concept of it could work. I was at college in London and I graduated this summer. I don’t live in London, but I would like to move back to London and I know that when I do I will have to look for somewhere and it would be great if I could buy somewhere rather than paying out rent every month.

The first evening I was on my own and cooked myself dinner. It took a while to get used to the public outside but in the flat I felt really relaxed, I had a glass of wine, watched TV, played on the PlayStation. Going to bed was a bit strange and I woke up a few times with the traffic. I have been living my life as usual though, I’ve been washing up, ironing. I just had a massage today and I did yoga the other day.

How would you feel about living in one for real?
I think it would be amazing if I could buy a flat like that, if it wasn’t in a shop window that is. If it was under £100,000 (approximately $143,000) then if I was sharing the mortgage I could afford to do it. I think it is big enough to share with somebody; it’s not like a bedsit or studio - it has a separate bedroom and living area so if you weren’t talking, someone could sleep on the sofa.

What’s it like living in this neighbourhood?
It’s really great for coming home at night from places. The Microflat team took me out on Monday night to a restaurant and tonight I am going to the theatre. It’s a good location. It’s good for shopping too when your back garden is Selfridges. I haven’t really bought anything so far. I don’t think that Microflats are ever going to be built in this area as they would be unaffordable. But it is great being in the middle of town. You walk up the road and there’s Soho.

What do you most like about Microflat?

I think it’s been really well designed. It is quite a small space, but it doesn’t feel small at all. The pod area is really well designed. It is a small space but there is room for storage and all your utilities are there. The only thing I don’t like is the fact that there is nowhere to put your socks, there aren’t any drawers. But that’s why I am there - to test it out and give advice about things.


Other Storefront Windows Around Oxford Street:

Marks & Spencer
Right next door to Selfridges is the store where Brits buy their underwear. Marks & Spencer has become less stiff-upper-lip of late so expect to see their range of Joe Corre (of Agent Provocateur) lingerie on full show.

If you exit to the rear of Selfridges you will catch a windowful of both Londoners and tourists slurping noodles whilst trying not to splash the broth on their designer sweaters. Cheap, fast and very popular, branches of this Japanese-style canteen are now sprouting all over London.

Almost opposite Wagamama at 72 Wigmore Street is the original branch of this wonderful Scandinavian design paradise where you can pick up a teak monkey, a Tom Dixon rug or Arne Jacobsen cutlery.

John Lewis
Robin and Lucienne Day were design consultants for this department store a few blocks east of Selfridges until 1987, and you can still spot their influence in-store. A recent makeover means that more fashion now fills the windows, though it is still great for fabric and will match any price in town.

All content copyright © 2012 Iain Aitch


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