The Savannah College of Art and Design has a problem. And it’s not a bad one to have at all.

In recent years, students and faculty at the school’s Midtown Atlanta campus have embraced car sharing, cycling, and other less carbon-intensive modes of getting around and, as a result, a five-deck midcentury parking structure on campus, once easily filled to capacity, has been feeling a bit lonely, under-occupied as of late— really, quite the feat considering SCAD’s location in the belly of the Sprawl Beast that is Atlanta.

So what to do with a partially redundant parking structure in a car-dependent city?

Given SCAD’s rich history of tackling adaptive reuse projects — particularly at the main SCAD campus in Savannah, where the school has truly taken architect Carl Elefante’s credo “the greenest building is the one already built” to heart by rehabbing dozens of down-and-out historic buildings for student housing — the answer was simple: transform the unused space into something new, something useful, something amazing.

SCAD's Dean of the School of Building Arts, Christian Sottile, elaborates:

Parking structures are a unique and very recent building type. It’s not a structure that cities, architects and designers have examined as opportunities for urban living. Parking structures are cold, uninhabitable spaces built for cars, not humans. At SCAD, we see many of these 20th century structures as a huge adaptive reuse and historic preservation opportunity to bring art and design together to delight the user and sustainably evolve these buildings already in place.
And delight SCAD has done.

Exterior, SCADpad North America

Exterior, SCADpad Asia

A hugely collaborative effort between 75 current SCAD students, 37 SCAD alumni, and 12 faculty members from across a dozen academic disciplines, a portion of the 2nd floor of the SCAD Atlanta parking structure is now home to SCADpad, an experimental micro-housing community that will house SCAD students during short -term residencies. The first batch of students will move into SCADpad’s trio of fully furnished 135-square-foot micro-homes-on-wheels ( partially prefabricated off-site and finished on-site) beginning April 15. The residencies, very much revolving around social media, will last three months in total.

Viewed as both a "paradigm shift in urban design" and a playful — but also extraordinarily thoughtful — solution to the affordable housing quandary in space-strapped cities, SCAD president and co-founder Paula Wallace refers to SCADpad as “a sustainable urban micro- housing community that projects relevance far beyond form and function to the Vitruvian Principles of utility, strength, and delight. SCADpad creates an environment for inventive and artful living.”

As for the units themselves, they may not be in line with you what first think of when they think of micro-dwellings: often cleverly designed but minimalist to the point of being uninviting stark. In a welcome departure, the three SCADpad prototype units are joyful, habitable works of art.

SCADpad after hours

Exterior, SCADpad North America; community garden and NuBox waste disposal station

Interior, SCADpad Asia

Each sporting their own iPad-controlled Philips Hue LED lighting systems, compact Energy Star kitchen appliances including induction cooktops, (surprisingly spacious) bathrooms with dual-flush toilets, and semi-private outdoor gardens/lounge areas, the three fully plumbed and wired SCADpad units are clustered around communal “outdoor” living spaces including a vibrant community garden complete with modular planting boxes and a cozy lounge area with custom-designed outdoor furniture. A voice-controlled 3D printing kiosk, a giant chessboard, and a bike sharing station round out the community features. And if you enjoy the feel of Astroturf underfoot, SCADpad has it in spades.

Additionally, adjacent to each unit is a NuBox, a reclaimed wood single-stream recycling/vermicomposting/waste disposal station designed specifically for SCADpad.

And then there are the views. The sweeping views from the SCADpad community is of a vast expanse of freeway — well, freeways, as the SCAD parking structure is perched above the I-75 and I-85 interchange — with Midtown Atlanta's commercial core in the distance and beyond that, the Downtown Atlanta skyline. It’s both totally unsubtle and beyond appropriate — really, you couldn’t get more Atlanta if you tried.

A very Atlanta-ish view

Game of chess?

Each SCADpad unit was inspired by the three continents where SCAD maintains campuses: North America (Atlanta and Savannah) Europe (Lacoste, France) and Asia (Hong Kong). The pilot units, approved by the City of Atlanta for temporary occupancy, were developed in 10 months total and, if replicated, could be built in one to two months at an estimated base cost of $40,000.

And since this is SCAD, there's a near-overwhelming abundance of student- and alumni-executed design features and artwork found within and outside of each unit — design features and artwork meant for admiring, inspiring, and interacting. The interior of SCADpad Asia features musical wallpaper — that is, “human conductive wallpaper” that plays a note of music when it’s touched. With an interior that resembles a traditional European caravan complete with a fold-up hammock bed, SCADpad Europe sports a boho-goes-medieval theme.

And then there’s SCADpad North America, which I had the pleasure of glamping living and working in for a single night — my own cozy little private cabin in a parking garage.

Stay tuned for an upcoming follow-up post in which I take a closer look at SCADpad North America (including reflections on my SCADpad sleepover in the unit) along with other unique sustainable design features found throughout the SCADpad community. Also be sure to head to SCADpad website for plenty more information, photos, a schedule of open-to-the-public exhibition dates, and further micro-housing loveliness. And while I'm unsure if we'll be seeing micro-housing communities (particularly such artful ones) sprouting up in underperforming parking garages in the near future, SCAD is on to something here ... something big.

Interior, SCADpad Europe

Interior, SCADpad Europe

Interior, SCADpad Asia

Related stories on MNN:

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

SCADpad, a micro-housing community founded on big ideas, launches in Atlanta
A look at the micro-housing magic that students at the Savannah College of Art and Design have worked on a campus parking structure.