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Krulwich Wonders: Living Very, Very Narrowly

Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - 09:46 AM

Finch and Keret Finch and Keret. (iStockphoto; Photo Ulf Andersen/Getty Images/NPR)

A post from Robert's excellent blog Krulwich Wonders. Read all his Krulwich Wonders posts here.

There are two apartment buildings in my Manhattan neighborhood that share a block. They sit very close. One is about nine inches from the other. In the small vertical space between them, a horde of finches have built themselves nest upon nest upon nest rising for nine human floors. It's a finch skyscraper. In March and April you can see finches busily flying in and out of this vertical crack, bearing twigs, grasses and nest-building material. By my estimate, at roughly 12 nests per human floor, these birds have created a tower that's 108 nests high — more levels than the Empire State Building.

Finches can do this because they're small.

Now a person has decided to imitate a finch.


Inside the Keret house.

Courtesy of Jakub Szczasny /Centrala

Etgar Keret, a writer from Israel, has commissioned what looks to be the narrowest house in the world. Like the finch skyscraper, it will be wedged between two buildings on Chlodna Street and Zelazna Street in Warsaw, Poland. At its widest point it's four feet across. At its narrowest, it's just 28 inches, that's the width of a front door. The bedroom is, by my count (I'm counting books at the head of the bed) 17 books wide: a trip from bed to toilet will require crawling down the mattress, over a chair, down a ladder and then sideways through the dining and kitchen area. Opening a refrigerator will require stepping into a different room, but hey, some people might find this charming.

Here's the space.


Future location of the Keret house.

Courtesy of Jakub Szczasny /Centrala

Here's the building-to-be.


Illustration of the narrowest house in Warsa, Poland.

Courtesy of Jakub Szczasny /Centrala

According to Suzanne LaBarre, senior editor at the journal Co.Design:

When construction's finished in December, it'll be the thinnest house in Warsaw and possibly the whole world....[Polish Architect Jakub] Szczesny designed the house to be a work space and home for [Keret]. It'll also be a "studio for invited guests — young creators and intellectualists from all over the world." If, that is, they're willing to drop half their body weight to fit inside.

Kidding, kidding. In all seriousness, though, the house is a pretty remarkable feat of architecture. If everything goes according to plan, Szczesny will manage to squeeze in designated rooms for sleeping, eating, and working. The place will have off-grid plumbing inspired by boat sewage technology and electricity lifted from a neighbor. To save space, the entry stairs will fold up at the press of a button and become part of the first floor."

Here's what it looks like when the first floor is folded up from street level.


Inside the Keret house.

Courtesy of Jakub Szczasny /Centrala

I'm not sure why Mr. Keret wants to live so narrowly. It might be a money thing.

He's certainly not following one of the basic rules of ecology, called the "Size/Abundance Rule", which says bigger animals live farther apart, smaller animals live closer together. Mr. Keret is hundreds (maybe thousands) of times bigger than a finch. His home territory should reflect that. Midsize mammals shouldn't live like midsize avians.

Plus, says editor Suzanne LaBarre, the place is not all that beautiful.

It's been compared to everything from a pregnancy test to a sanitary napkin. (Our vote is for "pregnancy test.") Our biggest concern, though, is that it's hardly got any windows. How's it going to..."become a significant platform for world intellectual exchange," if it feels like a sensory deprivation chamber? Won't Keret go insane? But maybe that's the point. It's not like he'd be the first artist to benefit from going [totally] crazy.

The building will be completed in December. Mr. Keret will move in sometime after that. His admirers will be watching, anxiously.


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Comments [6]


the mailman is going to have a hard time finding the place

Aug. 15 2011 02:21 AM
Archie Phillips from usa

It would have been great if the roof had the same opening ability the first floor has. By sliding it open there could have been a huge improvement in space.

Aug. 12 2011 04:55 PM
frankie from DC

That preganacy test house, makes me anxious to even imagine. I suppose this is one way of limiting the number of guests distrubing you.

Aug. 11 2011 01:45 PM
Zeeva from Brooklyn, New York

I am very interested to see/read the type of work Mr. Keret creates in this space. He is the master of the short short. I wonder if this tiny space will generate a great sized novel.

Aug. 07 2011 12:38 PM
Ran S. from Israel

Read a story written by the guy and you'll understand why ;)
I love Etgar Keret's stories. they are told as if they were the particular kind of dream, the 'realistic kind', where you wake up asking yourself if it was really a dream or did it really happen.

One story I liked in particular was about this guy who has an angel friend.
the angel is always depressed, always crying, never wants to do anything, and the guy keeps asking him to show his wings, to see him fly. after all, he is an angel, isn't he?
so one time when they are hanging out on the roof, he's just gently shoving him off the roof, waiting to see him fly.
the angel drops down and hits the ground.

Aug. 06 2011 07:20 PM
Lisa from West Virginia

Unusual living spaces have always intrigued me. I wouldn't mind trying it out for a month or two.

Aug. 04 2011 08:28 PM

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