City Life

Space to create

The clever use of space is increasingly important in today’s crowded cities. We take a look at how architects and designers have thought outside the box to create spaces that make the most of their compact, urban settings.


Meet Beatrice Simonsson

A moving space


“I think people will be surprised how much space for their stuff there is inside this car,” says Beatrice Simonsson, group design leader at Volvo Cars. “There are lots of ingenious storage features, inspired by the research we did into how people in the city live. We were amazed at how much stuff people carry around with them in their cars. One of them even kept a barbecue permanently in their trunk.”

The solutions created by Beatrice and her team range from the small – such as a hook that folds neatly out of the glove box to hang a bag or maybe your takeaway – to the large, like the storage compartment under the front central armrest. “The bin under the armrest is large enough to hold a full-size tissue box, because that’s what our customers want,” she says. “And there’s an area under the centre display where a mobile phone can be stored and wirelessly charged, which reduces clutter and makes it easy to reach.”

Our customers’ desire for convenient, practical storage spaces led to the creation of unusually long, deep door pockets. Each of these is large enough to hold three one-litre drinks bottles. It’s a design feature that owes much to the ‘air-ventilated woofer’ speaker, mounted behind the dashboard. This is the first of its type in a production car, and means there is no need for speakers in the front doors.

“Using space cleverly means making it flexible and accessible,” Beatrice says. That’s why the XC40 is available with a hands-free, power-operated tailgate, which means you don’t have to put down what you’re carrying ­to use the trunk – you simply kick your foot under the rear bumper to open or close it automatically. There’s also a foldable, removable load floor to suit differing needs, as well as rear backrests that can be folded at the touch of a button. “The XC40 is about practical solutions – finding ways to make people’s busy urban lives less complicated,” Beatrice says.

Riverside House, Tokyo

Space to live


Tokyo is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, so maximising space is a priority, not an afterthought, for its architects. Kota Mizuishi and his team at Mizuishi Architect Atelier rose to the challenge when they designed the intriguing Riverside House in Tokyo. Fashioned from sheets of galvanised steel, aluminium, birch and plasterboard, the building’s striking wedge shape is the result of maximising the tight urban plot it sits on.

Riverside House’s ground floor is home to ingenious storage space along one entire side of the main living area. On the upper floor, narrow structural walls divide different areas, unified by their relationship to the roof’s ridgeline and their surroundings. Surprisingly, given its size, the house even has a kitchen and dining area with a double-height ceiling and windows that open fully on both sides of the living area. There’s also a spare room on the east side and a loft with two skylights that look out on to the river and the sky.

The house – which is home to a couple and their little girl – is built on a triangular site where a road and river cross. According to Kota, the house was designed in response to its setting, particularly the river. Kota explains: “Although it was a site with a limited area of space, I wanted each part of the building to provide an open feel and different relationships with the river.”

The Friggatto, Stockholm

An innovative space


For another example of creative Swedish thinking, look no further than the Friggatto. This innovative building – the work of Stockholm-based Full Scale Studio (part of KTH School of Architecture) – is actually two separate structures that can be moved to suit different needs, making the most of the available space. The components – a 15-square-metre house (Friggebod) and a 25-square-metre house (Attefallshus) – can be separated and reconnected to create a generous alfresco area in summer and a large indoor space in winter.

The Friggebod house is built from Styrofoam boards and Swedish fir plywood. The exterior plywood was treated with tar, while the untreated interior was fashioned from black leather. This lightweight construction was then put on a metal rail with wheels. One strong person can move the Friggebod with a bit of effort, while two or three can move it without breaking a sweat. The Attefallshus part was designed as an open studio space with a workspace level, a kitchen and an entrance. Fir plywood sheets were used for the walls, roof and roof beam. The floor uses repurposed mahogany, with built-in hatches to store tools and machines away.

It’s a building conceived with minimal environmental impact in mind. The team used a traditional Japanese method of wood-smoking to weatherproof the Friggatto’s façade, so there was no need for paint or chemicals.