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Developer proposes 200 tiny prefab homes that fit together like LEGO

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And we do mean tiny

Imagine the smallest space in which you could possibly live. Now imagine something smaller.

Can you get by in just 160 square feet? The answer, as Berkeley based modular building developer Panoramic Interests will tell you, probably depends on what other options you have. And in the Bay Area, there aren't too many.

Panoramic has a pitch for San Francisco: Turn over just a portion of a DPW owned parking lot at 2627 Cesar Chavez and the company will build 200 new homes there in only a couple of months.

They promise that modular, prefabricated infill units can come together for 60 percent of the cost of a normal building and a fraction of the time. The same company has put up some similar tiny homes in the city before, but these would be even smaller.

The studios, dubbed MicroPADs, are so micro that they’re barely there, comparatively speaking, like quantum particles whose existence even physicists can‘t decide. They’re intentionally modeled on the dimensions of standard shipping containers, albeit with a bit more ceiling.

Generally, Americans don’t make positive associations with words like "tiny," "modular," and "industrial" when it comes to housing. They remind us of prison cells, or something out of Blade Runner.

"If people tried it, they’d find it’s more comfortable than they expect," founder Patrick Kennedy says of the proposed Liliputian layouts. The company plans to park a model apartment outside of its Mission office in October to let the public get a feel for it.

Kennedy also points out that there are people living in SROs in the city that aren’t much bigger, and paying twice as much as the $1,000-$1,200/month Kennedy’s minuscule manses would ask.

And of course, there are folks living in tents or off of couches, shelter cots, or "pods" who would consider such a domicile a step up, which is why he hopes that city will consider his modules as a way to increase transitional housing too.

"Our argument is, just let us try it," Kennedy says. "The market will decide, but let’s give it a shot."

The prefab apartments are designed to be literally stacked one on top of the other. The proposed Caesar Chavez homes wouldn't even necessarily need a frame; the units simply join together to create a dense grid structure.

It’s not a huge innovation; it’s mostly the same way similar boxes are placed on gigantic cargo ships. The same structure would simply be fastened together more permanently here. But it is something a city like San Francisco could use. Desperately.

There would still need to be significant construction on things like elevators, corridors, and utility hookups, of course. But the homes themselves just slide into place in a few weeks.

Will the city bite? Well, if ever there was a time to experiment, this is probably it. After all, homes aren’t going to build themselves—that innovation is still yet out of our reach.