Mini Tower One Brings Nature Indoors in this Passive House in Brooklyn

With space being at a premium in most large cities these days, architects are having to think outside the box in order to maximize square footage within limited footprints. Prime example is Mini Tower One, a 3,500-square-foot rear addition and renovation of a multi-family residential building in Brooklyn that reimagines the concept of indoor/outdoor living. Designed by the award-winning interdisciplinary design studio MODU, this project not only expands living space by 30%, but also sets a new standard for flexible residential design.

Bright room with large glass doors opening to a patio, featuring indoor plants and a hanging wicker chair.

Mini Tower One’s design philosophy centers around creating a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor spaces. Each floor of the building is extended to include flexible areas that cater to a variety of activities, from living and entertaining to relaxing and enjoying the changing seasons. Key features such as the indoor terrace and all-season room can be enclosed or opened up, allowing residents to immerse themselves throughout the year, no matter the weather, all from the comfort of their home.

A modern, blue spiral staircase is inside a minimalistic white-walled space, with a small tree planted near the base and several large, pebble-shaped decorations nearby.

A unique example of incorporating biophilic elements indoors that goes beyond adding potted plants to the space is planting a tree right into the home, as seen above, where a tree is planted in the concrete floor. As it grows, the tree with continue sprouting up through the void created by the spiral staircase.

A modern indoor space with a blue metal staircase enclosed by a mesh railing. The area features glass walls, wooden flooring, and a potted plant next to the railing.

A serene indoor space with a beige daybed, grey curtains, and a view of lush greenery outside a glass door. A potted plant sits next to the door.

The project, which follows passive house principles, boasts a high-performance building envelope designed to minimize energy consumption, creating an airtight environment during peak heating and cooling seasons. When the weather is mild, large openings invite the outdoors in, fostering a connection to nature without sacrificing energy efficiency.

A modern, minimalist interior featuring a white staircase with glass railings, light wooden flooring, a small desk by a window, and a skylight above.

A modern, interior staircase with translucent steps and white railing leading to an upper floor, surrounded by white walls and light wood flooring.

A minimalist staircase with a white railing and steps ascends next to a white brick wall. Several potted plants are arranged below the staircase on a light wood floor.

The building’s innovative threshold areas, such as the indoor terrace and all-weather room, passively cool incoming air, reducing the need for air conditioning during warmer times. This smart design not only enhances indoor comfort but also significantly cuts down on energy use. Features like the edible garden on the roof terrace and the towering 50-foot birch tree in the backyard further emphasize the project’s commitment to nature in the city.

Modern, minimalistic room with a white table, two blue chairs, wall art, and a large mirror reflecting the space. Natural light enters through two windows, and there are hints of greenery.

Beyond its architectural ingenuity, Mini Tower One serves as a catalyst for urban planning research led by MODU. This research aims to identify additional sites in New York City where similar multi-family additions can be implemented without necessitating full demolition. The focus is on maximizing available Floor Area Ratio (FAR) in properties with zoning height limitations, insufficient existing structures, or unstable soil conditions. This strategy supports increased density in ‘middle housing’ areas, making such developments accessible to long-time property owners and addressing the challenges of gentrification.

A minimalist room with a long white table, three modern chairs, wooden floor, two windows, and a door leading to a balcony. A sculpture of two figures perched on a branch is visible on the table.

A minimalist room with a large wall mirror reflecting a window and five gray stone-like cushions on a wooden floor. The room features white walls and a sliding door.

Close-up of a modern building facade featuring vertical metallic ridges and large glass windows, reflecting part of an outdoor scene.

Recently recognized with the 2024 AIANY Design Award, the project seamlessly integrates passive house features – like super-insulated facades and energy recovery ventilation – with cutting-edge solutions such as radiant outdoor heating, an air curtain that opens to the outdoors, and a planted indoor tree for natural air filtration. Remarkably, despite these enhancements, Mini Tower One requires just 12% more energy, which is more than compensated for by rooftop solar panels. This blend of efficiency and innovation positions Mini Tower One as a model for maximizing small urban footprints and creating sustainable, enjoyable living environments.

The image shows a modern building facade featuring a corrugated metal design with several windows and balconies, partially shaded by tree leaves.

A modern three-story white building with large windows stands next to an older white building with a black fire escape staircase and metal railing. Trees and a clear sky are visible in the background.

A modern multi-story building with large windows and corrugated metal exterior stands next to an older structure with exterior staircases. Tree partially obscures part of the building. Sky is clear.

A narrow alleyway featuring a closed metal roll-up door with graffiti, flanked by multistory buildings with exposed pipes and a red brick facade. The background includes modern architecture and bare trees.

A woman sits at a table in a bright room with white walls, while a man stands near an open door. An outdoor view can be seen through the large windows and open door.

Rachely Rotem and Phu Hoang of MODU

Photography by Michael Moran.

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