5 Things Architecture Can Learn from the Tiny House Movement

5 Things Architecture Can Learn from the Tiny House Movement, © Flickr CC user Tammy Strobel
© Flickr CC user Tammy Strobel

As the global economy grows uncertain, homeowners are getting more creative in order to afford essential residential spaces. The tiny house movement has gained a foothold worldwide, encouraging the construction of homes as small as 150 square feet (14 square meters), with many smaller housing models cropping up on a daily basis. Home to residents of all ages, tiny houses have evolved far beyond the cramped quarters of Airstream trailers of decades past and, though they were once considered an architectural farce, tiny houses are becoming an increasingly popular solution to weather the economic storm and increasingly relevant to the field of architecture.

With their increasing respectability - and their popularity increasingly exposing the drawbacks of other housing types - we take a look at some lessons that while key to the tiny house movement, are still applicable in the larger architectural arena. Read on to find out what tiny houses can contribute to the race for better space.

1. Bigger isn't always better

Simply put, houses with tiny footprints are more affordable to build and maintain. According to thetinylife.com, in 2013 the average tiny house cost a mere $23,000 to build versus $272,000 for a full-sized house. Given that some tiny houses include all the amenities of a normal house in just 150 square feet of livable space, traditional home design could take a page from the tiny house book and opt for moderately smaller spaces.

Traditional houses cost on average over 10 times the cost of an average tiny house. Image © Flickr CC user Robert Couse-Baker
Traditional houses cost on average over 10 times the cost of an average tiny house. Image © Flickr CC user Robert Couse-Baker

2. Capitalize on vertical space

One of the great successes of many tiny house designs is the uncanny feeling of airiness of the interior despite the lack of actual space. Unlike traditional home designs, tiny houses often opt for a single full-height space punctuated by subtle privacy partitions for sleeping quarters and utilities.

Translating this feature into larger homes could mean a more open plan, more daylight, and better ventilation, among other benefits. To preserve the intimacy of vertical space for tiny houses in traditional contexts, architects should examine the nuanced qualities of carefully crafted verticality. Modesty is crucial to the inclusion of vertical space: designers must be cautious to avoid the dangers of soaring space for vanity's sake.

3. Mixed-use spaces are the only spaces

As many city dwellers know, when space is at a premium functions will inevitably be combined. Everything in a tiny house is designed for multi-use: living room-turned-dining room-turned office is the name of the game. Rarely will an office and bedroom be used simultaneously by a single person, eliminating the need for two separate spaces, so the elimination of single-function spaces is an idea which can be applied far beyond the dictates of tiny houses.

In traditional home construction, this could mean the combination of living room and kitchen, bedroom and dining room or a host of other pairings, consequently eliminating excess or redundant spaces. A tried and true practice, the elimination of programmatically redundant space has been in use for years in the micro-apartment sphere. For homeowners, savings realized through streamlining residential space have the potential to be reinvested in overall housing quality. 

Tiny houses allow myriad opportunities to connect with the outdoors. Image © Flickr CC user Laura LaVoie
Tiny houses allow myriad opportunities to connect with the outdoors. Image © Flickr CC user Laura LaVoie

4. Connect with the outdoors

By their very nature, tiny houses are forced to relate to their surroundings. More than just a miniature version of an ordinary residence, tiny houses reduce interior space to a sophisticated shelter while celebrating natural surroundings. Designed with a minimally invasive footprint, tiny houses rarely upset their environment: they connect with it. Furthermore, a strategically placed collection of tiny houses can create opportunities for outdoor communal space. In traditional housing terms, this could mean a more holistic approach towards design, with particular attention paid to smaller scale details that will foster a stronger connection with adjacent outdoor spaces.

5. Minimalism is key

Tiny houses are fundamentally different in terms of function than their ordinary-sized counterparts and must be designed with this notion in mind. While the interior architecture of a full-sized house can afford ornament and a dose of pomp, tiny houses are restricted to a minimalist approach due to lack of space. When applied to standard residential design, however, the tiny house minimalist method could prove beneficial: by streamlining space and eliminating unnecessary design features, homeowners could maximize functional space by finding beauty in a stripped-back aesthetic. As Mies van der Rohe said, "less is more."

Thanks to ArchDaily commenter Daniel Paulsen for the article idea!

Cite: Finn MacLeod. "5 Things Architecture Can Learn from the Tiny House Movement" 01 Sep 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/772637/5-things-architecture-can-learn-from-the-tiny-house-movement/>