Perhaps humanity’s most basic need after food and water, shelter doesn’t only provide us with a safe and insulated living environment, but also defines us as a civilizational species. As the global population of urban areas soars all across the globe, people are forced to live in an ever-shrinking space. In fact, some cases went so far that entire buildings were narrowed to less than 2 meters, putting to a test the physical threshold for humans to live in.
Throughout its history, Amsterdam has always been home to some of the world’s narrowest buildings. This anomaly is largely to do with the local taxation system which charged house owners according to the extent of their frontage. As a result, the width of buildings across the Dutch metropolis shrunk dramatically, evolving into the iconic cityscape of spout façades we all know today.
Amid the reasonably narrow edifices are some particularly extreme instances where buildings are barely 4 times wider than an average human. While various sources all over the internet and beyond zealously claim that the city’s narrowest building is the Kleinste Huis at Oude Hoogstraat 22, it’s in fact 22 centimeters wider than Generaal Vetterstraat 18b.
Wedged between a pair of unassuming buildings, the 1.80-meter-wide house in Amsterdam’s south district was built in 1922, and so, its proportions are the result of a necessity rather the aforementioned municipal regulation. With a total surface area of a meager 20 m2, its overall living space stands at around 37 m2, still enough for a claustrophobia inducing living room.
photography by: Ceescamel/ Wikimedia Commons
It is plausible to assume that the unsuspecting passersby who walk along the Hendel Building, locally known as the Skinny Building, almost certainly confuse it as a seamless part of its adjacent neighbor. Nevertheless, this slender box is a building by its own right. This rare oddity originated in 1903, when the municipality of Pittsburgh expropriated a strip of land along the then Diamond Street to expand it into today’s Forbes Avenue. As a result, a series of buildings on the street’s northern side were demolished, while their remaining parcels were merged with their neighboring counterparts.
The only exception was a 6-foot wide and 80-foot long (1.8 meters X 24 meters) plot of land on the intersection of Wood Street. The unusual parcel was purchased by Andrew Mellon who sold it in 1918 to Louis Hendel, a local hawker who opened an outdoor fruit market at the place. Due to multiple complaints of encroachment by his vendors to the surrounding sidewalk, Hendel ultimately replaced the open-air marketplace with a 3-story building in 1926.
Encompassing most of the parcel, the 1.57-meter-wide building (5 feet and 2 inches) is often referred to as the narrowest commercial building in the world, albeit this claim is challenged by the Sam Kee Building in Vancouver whose ground floor is 1.50 meter wide.
Interestingly, the building had many occupants throughout its history, including a fruit store, a cigar shop, a successful diner and most notably, the Lincoln Restaurant (1928-1931) which was the only dining place in downtown Pittsburgh to serve African-American clients at that time. In recent decades, the oddly-shaped building managed to dodge demolition after a group of activists opened an art gallery at the upper floors, and is now officially listed as a historically significant site.
photography by: Cbaile19/ Wikimedia Commons
As its name implies, La Casa Estrecha (“the narrow house” in Spanish) is ridiculously slender, even more so when taking into account its two far larger neighboring buildings. Nestled along the C. de Tetuán Street in San Juan old town, the mini edifice was up until a few decades ago a shabby alley that led into an inner courtyard. The alleyway was eventually transformed into a small house, which during the 2000’s has been redesigned by its owner and architect, Antonio Álvarez.
The once basic hovel was turned into a fully functioning house complemented with an art gallery, measuring in total a meager 5 feet, or 1.52 meters. With a strikingly yellow façade along with a dark-green door, this thin building had to overcome many structural challenges. For instance, its staircase has alternate steps to bridge the vertical gap between the floors, while water from the shower, sink and toilet is all drained into a single area.
You might be glad to know that what La Casa Estrecha lacks in width, it definitely makes up for in its insanely expansive view from the balcony on the second floor, from where one can have a glimpse to as far as Cerro Punta, Puerto Rico’s tallest mountain.
photography by: prayitno3063/ Flickr
The largest settlement across the Isle of Cumbrae’s bucolic landscape, Millport is known for its laid-back vibes, close-by sandy beaches and as it turns out, also as home to the former holder of the “World’s narrowest building” title. Built in 1875 along Millport’s iconic seafront, the Wedge owes its name to the odd shape of the building that widen the deeper it gets, somewhat resembling a wedge of cheese.
While its frontage measuring merely 47 inches or 1.19 meters, the Wedge’s widest part is 11 feet wide (3.35 meters), making it spacious enough for its own living room and kitchen at the ground floor as well as an upstairs bedroom with a shower and toilet. The house had dozens of tenants across its existence, including two families with children who lived in the premises simultaneously. Its current owner, 76-year-old Frances Melling, had to temporarily dismantle the building’s doorway so her precious furniture items could make their way inside.
photography by: Finlay Fraser/ geograph.org.uk
While each and every house on this list is ridiculously thin, all of which are far-eclipsed by the following sardine box in the Polish capital. Measuring a measly 72 centimeters at its narrowest point and 1.22 meters at its widest point, the Keret House in Warsaw is officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s narrowest building.
Designed by local architect, Jakub Szczęsny, the house was built in 2012 to accommodate novelists and authors who visit Warsaw. As a matter of fact, the building is named after its first guest, the Israeli writer Etgar Keret, whose parents were holocaust survivors who lived in Warsaw Ghetto, a short distance away.
Sandwiched between 74 Żelazna Street and 22 Chłodna Street, a pair of buildings from two different eras, the Keret House has a total floor area of only 4.27 square meters. Despite its mind-bogglingly tiny space, this 3-story building is bestowed with multiple amenities, including a small kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom and a refrigerator with enough room for only two beverages. With only two windows, the inner space is lit primarily by the translucent façade, made of semi-transparent glass panels.
Moving vertically across the house is possible thanks to a retractable staircase, which upon closing becomes a modest living space, and a ladder linking the second and third floors. Hilariously, since the edifice doesn’t meet Warsaw’s minimal criteria of planning, it doesn’t qualify as a building, and instead is officially listed as an art installation, whilst in practice it serves as a residence.
photography by: Forgemind ArchiMedia/ Flickr