Designers claimed eight parking spots to create the three micro dwellings, with amenities such as a raised, edible garden.

America’s population surges have historically produced new housing types: balloon-frame houses helped settle the Midwest; garden apartments posed a healthier alternative to burgeoning tenements; Levittown emblematized the Baby Boom. If 70 million millennials represent the largest youthquake to date, then what new residential paradigm will appear for it? Gen Y-ers affiliated with the Savannah College of Art and Design believe the answer looks something like SCADpad, a new 135-square-foot micro dwelling created by an interdisciplinary collaboration of 112 students and alumni from the namesake school.

Working in Solar Decathlon–like fashion, the group unveiled three prototype units at SCAD’s Atlanta campus last week. The participants view miniaturization as the best means of achieving affordable housing in city centers where millennials prefer to live, says School of Building Arts dean Christian Sottile, who conceived the project with SCAD president Paula Wallace a year ago.

“The millennial is interested in a collaborative living arrangement and does not mind smaller space. But that space has to represent no compromise in terms of experience and lifestyle, and foremost that means being located in the heart of the city,” Sottile says, referring to a 2011 Urban Land Institute report. He also cites a recent National Association of Realtors study, which found that 77 percent of millennials want to live in a city center.

SCADpad’s dimensions are dictated by the urban fabric, specifically by a standard parking space. The SCAD team’s research linked next-generation housing preferences with a downward trend in car ownership; filling underutilized garages with micro dwellings would create a new use for these existing structures and would cost less to rent than a market-rate studio apartment. Although there are 105 million parking spots in the United States, “there is a certain class of mid-century parking structure for which the SCADpad is best suited,” Sottile says. “They have ideal locations, and unlike the first garages that had facades, these are open structures with small footprints for diffuse daylighting.”

The SCADpad prototypes’ site falls firmly within the category. The five-story, 900-spot parking structure was constructed in 1956 as part of a new headquarters for Retail Credit Company. Since the building’s conversion into a computing facility and then the anchor of the SCAD Atlanta campus, the robustly engineered structure’s parking spaces have been gap-toothed by day and all but abandoned after hours.

Sottile explains that, while affordable housing was one goal of the SCADpad effort, minimizing impact on the millennial lifestyle trumped frugality. The current installation underscores demographic leanings. The young designers claimed eight parking spots on the southward-pointing corner of the fourth level, hinging the three micro dwellings around an AstroTurf-covered communal space featuring student-designed furniture and an interactive lighting projection. Small terraces provide additional buffer zones for the houses, and other community amenities include a raised edible garden, multi-compartment trash disposal with vermiculture composting, a bicycle rack, and a SCAD-specific outdoor workstation outfitted with a MakerBot printer.

The units themselves are similarly millennial in spirit, with electrochromic windows, LED luminaires, motion detectors, and other home functions completely controlled by digital interface. The team’s artists were given complete license over both exterior claddings and interior finishes, which yielded solutions such as rag-rug seating surfaces, flooring made of vintage yardsticks, and gold-colored, scale-like roof tiles.

“We recognize it’s going to take a wide array of strategies to accommodate the new urban population,” Sottile says in response to the one-size-fits-some-personalities solution. Even so, “There is an immediacy to this as an adaptive-reuse strategy that is appealing. The barrier to entry is much lower than some other very good work being done in micro housing and infill development.”

Determining that the typical mid-century parking structure can contain 200 such units, the SCADpad team envisions transforming garages into vertical neighborhoods of homes or live-work startup companies. Possible futures include a product launch in the manufactured-housing market, or redevelopment partnerships with owners of parking structures. In the meantime, the designers are proving their concept and working out its kinks, thanks to feedback from 12 student occupants performing weeklong residencies until the end of May.