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Everything you need in 450 square feet

Developers, city betting tiny apartments will be big thing

Karen Stein of GOODGOOD, a design studio, created a mock-up of an micro-apartment unit for a 20-story tower that broke ground in the Seaport District Thursday. Karen Stein of GOODGOOD, a design studio, created a mock-up of an micro-apartment unit for a 20-story tower that broke ground in the Seaport District Thursday. (Photos by David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / July 27, 2012
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A small platform, painted black with images of kitchen appliances and living room furniture outlined in bright neon, was celebrated Thursday as the future of housing in Boston’s fast-growing Seaport District.

The platform, with a faux wall on one side, was a mock-up of the ultra-small apartments under construction at the Seaport’s newest residential building, the Boston Wharf Tower on A Street. With units as small as 450 square feet, the apartments fit Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s call for more affordable housing in the district for young professionals who want to live near work and social attractions.

“From the very start of our plan for the waterfront and Fort Point Channel, we knew housing would be a crucial part of the equation,” Menino said Thursday during a ceremonial ground-breaking at that $100 million Boston Wharf Tower. “This project will help turn this neighborhood into a vibrant, 24-hour mixed-use community.

The units are barely big enough to accommodate a few essentials: galley kitchen, bathroom, and bed or pull-out sofa. But the small space comes with a comparatively small price tag. While the Boston Wharf Tower developers declined to price their units, some of the ultra small apartments being built in the area are expected to rent for $1,200 to $1,600 a month. Developers are betting that young professionals will trade personal space for proximity to urban life.

“We’re into building housing that enables people to live, work, and think differently,” said Mark Edlen, chief executive of Gerding Edlen, a Portland, Ore., developer building Boston Wharf Tower. “We think of the common space in our buildings and the streetscape outside as the living room for our residents.”

There will be conventional units in Boston Wharf Tower, too. Of the 202 apartments, more than half will be one-bedroom units from 600 to 900 square feet, another 41 will be two bedrooms of 1,000 to 1,300 square feet, with the remainder studios in the 500 square foot range.

Incredibly, Gerding Edlen is building even smaller apartments across the street at 63 Melcher Street, where some of 27 units will be 330 square feet.

Edlen said both buildings will have common areas that will allow residents to dine, work, and socialize outside their individual units. The concept behind this design, Edlen said, is “20-minute” living — where the major stops of daily life — public transit, shops, restaurants, and other amenities — are within a 20-minute walk.

“If pedestrians begin to take over the streets, as opposed to cars, then we truly feel we’ve been successful,” he said. Edlen added that his company is pursuing additional opportunities in Boston, but declined to identify them Thursday.

Several other complexes nearby are also building ultra-small apartments, part of a wave of new development rippling through the Seaport. On Congress Street, a Marroitt Residence Inn is under construction, while around the corner on Seaport Boulevard, the foundation for a 300-unit apartment tower is being dug. And at Fan Pier, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., is building an $800 million office complex.

Another 236 apartments are under construction at Waterside Place across from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, and the developers of a 21-story apartment and retail tower at Pier 4 are also expected to start building soon. Altogether, more than 700 housing units are under construction on the waterfront.

Officials said the addition of so many new homes is crucial to bringing around-the-clock activity to the Seaport because more residents will attract amenities such as a grocery store, more restaurants, and shops.

“People want to be part of this neighborhood,” Menino said. “And it’s our job to work with developers and make those opportunities happen.”

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

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