A one-room apartment is a prison | Laurence Shatkin

Founded in 2012, Brilliantyart had hoped to offer some shelter from New York’s freezing weather. But it was soon established that there were too many of us, inside three beds, squeezed in tight, in…

A one-room apartment is a prison | Laurence Shatkin

Founded in 2012, Brilliantyart had hoped to offer some shelter from New York’s freezing weather. But it was soon established that there were too many of us, inside three beds, squeezed in tight, in order to help solve the so-called urban-crisis problem. Several nights at Brilliantyart seemed to be enough to discover just how tiny we really were.

Prospective tenants are required to submit their proposals for the studio space, their portfolio or even their ancestry before it is narrowed down to a shortlist. In this way, in mid-April, we were invited to submit designs for a “living studio”, which was a redbrick apartment with a board- and-ceiling height of 11ft 2in – more than a metre too short for a single occupant.

The space is a small hole in the ground where we put all the clutter we acquire, and also where our artists create pieces that not only look cool, but have the opposite effect of what they claim to. The creative process with these living spaces is finding the balance between meeting people’s needs and creativity.

On the first floor, the amount of space that can be offered has to be only three square metres per inhabitant in order to keep the pressure off the walls. Here, the artists are united. They share clothes, literature, telephone numbers and even their art supplies (they go as far as posting shipping boxes and shipping them to each other and to us). The main area is a small cafe as well as a studio for five or six artists who rent the space on an hourly rate or on an 18-month lease, with free use of the building.

I like to work with structure and logic. If there is no space, then I must create the space with the eyes of an architect, and I don’t allow myself to control anything. At the same time, the materials are arranged and selected according to the layout of the studio. For example, a board comes into play with the small area I can produce my books. Or the wooden floor into play with the floor-to-ceiling open panel wall. There is such a high density of materials (the floor and walls) and random objects that the role of a space manager becomes quite minimal.

Canvassing the streets of the East Village has inspired me to practice design. Walking between the studios and the street is to stimulate the senses: smelling the coffee, looking at the paintings and realizing what you are missing from the block.

We have tried to balance an interaction between the street and our studio. There is a small staircase leading to the street from the studio floor, although we try to balance it by having only one open panel on the wall (it can be split up into different pieces to create smaller areas). We also try to have enough privacy for the artists, all of whom are between 20 and 40 years old. The question is how to create space that is both vertical and horizontal, but also how to keep space alone. But these two qualities are not contradictory. I must be a man of the horizontal and vertical. And nothing comes between me and the structure.

My favourite apartment is in New York; however, one will always be the most comfortable. My favourite place is the studio.

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