The tiny home trend has been hard to ignore over the last several years. There's an increasingly saturated market of TV shows and Pinterest pictures dedicated to the topic of exploring micro-dwellings where your home is reduced to the size of a walk-in-closet and each room takes on a triple-duty programmatic role has only increased its popularity. What looks enticing on reality TV is often much less desirable in real life, and as people continue to long for a lifestyle that frees them of material goods and the ability to travel, what does this mean for the actuality of tiny home construction? Is it just a wanderlust fantasy that no one actually lives and was there ever any promise to its realization in the mainstream world?
At the 2014 Venice Biennale, celebrated architect and curator Rem Koolhaas chose an unusual curatorial theme. Rather than exploring the major issues that plague modern society or their manifestations in the profession of architecture, the event's theme, "Fundamentals," and its main exhibition, "Elements of Architecture," examined in detail the bare fundamentals of buildings, simple elements used by everyday architects for everyday designs. According to Koolhaas, “Architecture is a profession trained to put things together, not to dismantle them. Only by looking at the elements of architecture under a microscope can we recognize cultural preferences, technological advances, changes triggered by the intensification of global exchange, climatic adaptations, local norms and, somewhere in the mix, the architect's ideas that constitute the practice of architecture today.”
According to the United Nation’s “The World’s Cities in 2018”, it is estimated that, “by 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60 percent of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants.” Also, between 2018 and 2030, it is estimated that the number of cities with 500,000 inhabitants or more is expected to grow by 23 percent in Asia. China, as the largest economy in Asia, with a GDP (PPP) of $25.27 trillion, is expanding rapidly, both economically and demographically.
In all cities around the world, there are some forms of residual space, forgotten pieces of the urban fabric, remnants of overlapping layers of past development. This land whose conditions make it unsuitable for most types of conventional construction might be a fertile ground for architectural invention. Assigning a new value to vacant corner lots, dead-end alleys and strangely shaped plots opens up a new field of opportunities for inward urban development, expanding available living space and increasing amenities in densely populated cities. The following explores the potential for experiment and urban activation held by urban leftover space.
In residential architecture, there have always been central, indispensable spaces and peripheral spaces more easy to ignore. When designing a home, the task of the architect is essentially to configure, connect, and integrate different functions in the most efficient way possible, necessarily prioritizing some spaces over others. And although today many are designing in ways that are increasingly fluid and indeterminate, we could say that the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen are the fundamental nucleus of every house, facilitating rest, food preparation, and personal hygiene. Then meeting spaces and other service areas appear, and with them lobbies, corridors, and stairs to connect them. Each space guides new functions, allowing its inhabitants to perform them in an easier and more comfortable way.
The issue of the housing deficit plagues virtually all countries today. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, 330 million urban families worldwide lack decent housing, or housing costs are so heavy that they need to forgo other basic needs such as food, heath care, and education for children. According to the WRI (World Resources Institute), it is estimated that 1.6 billion people will lack adequate housing by the year 2025.
London/Malta-based Mizzi Studio, led by founder Jonathan Mizzi, are at the forefront of the growing trend of micro-architecture. As exemplified by their recent commission for the design of nine kiosks across London’s Royal Parks, the firm has a passion for the fusion of craft and technology, and in particular, the large, invisible forces of economy, sustainability, and psychology that converge on such small spaces and structures.
Netflix has published a new show on its streaming service on the subject of tiny houses. “Tiny House Nation” follows renovation experts John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin across America, as they help design and construct tiny homes in spaces under 500 square feet. The seven episodes from the 2014-2017 series feature homeowners from all walks of life, from Florida to Hawaii, seeking to join a Tiny Houses Movement that prioritizes smart living.
In an effort to spark public discussion and new ideas on how sustainable design can manifest as decent, affordable housing, Yale University has collaborated with UN Environment and UN-Habitat to unveil a “tiny house” fully powered by renewable energy. At 22-square-meters, the eco-house is designed to “test the potential for minimizing the use of natural resources such as water.”