‘Small’ can instinctively imply an unappealing, claustrophobic space. However, in Nano House: Innovations for small dwellings, Phyllis Richardson presents a collection of 43 ‘small’ dwellings and examines the feasibility of mini living spaces.
Where space is limited and energy use is a global concern, ‘nano’ houses, with versatility and appreciation for materials in their design, could be a sustainable way forward, tackling the future impact of an increasingly compact urban environment.
Stripping it down to the fundamentals of living, Richardson analyses innovative alternatives that deal with our current demands for high-tech and lavish lifestyles. She has created a directory of clever ideas that can be adapted from a larger scale, marrying traditional ideas, such as Le Corbusier’s vertical habitats, with responsible design. With thoughtful, spatial arrangements, the ‘nano’ house can range from a simple Mies van der Rohe-inspired SmartBox for the 2010 Solar Decathlon competition to dmVA Architects eccentric Blob, a temporary ‘space egg’ that contains essential living compartments. From floating mobile houses, groundbreaking ‘green’ technologies to temporary pop-up designs, these 50 sq m-75 sq m dwellings challenge the notion ‘living small is living with less’.
Renowned for his discussions on minimal living, Le Corbusier‘s view was that a house should provide:‘1. A shelter against heat, cold, rain, thieves and the inquisitive. 2. A receptacle for light and sun. 3. A certain number of cells appropriated to cooking, work, personal life.’ These seem to be of most importance in small-scale design, a starting point from which the architects featured in this book progress into high-quality designs comparative in space, light and luxury to dwellings twice the size.
It is easy to see the appeal of living in some of these small buildings, many demonstrating luxurious and efficient designs. Sunset Cabin, for example, by architecture practice Taylor Smyth, uses birch veneered plywood louvres around the perimeter of the facade, photographed to highlight a pattern of filtered light and shadow that seem to radiate internal space. In contrast, examples such as HSH Architekti’s Villa Hermina in the Czech Republic question whether a cantilevered bookshelf-bed can be described as a luxury. Even though the flexible internal layout amplifies a dynamic spatial experience, it makes it difficult to imagine this as a suitable setting for a comfortable family home.
Small structures are useful: they are an economic way to test ideas and explore the possibilities of viable low-energy alternatives. In architect Ryszard Rychlicki’s Instant Lung, for example, he ‘transfers the air-filtering mask and the soundproof headphones to the function of a house.’ Based next to a motorway and accustomed to poor air quality, the architect has designed a central felt and cotton ’lung’ to take the air through a narrow gap in the external wall, naturally ventilating the interior.
Throughout the projects in the book, materials are used to heighten spaces and break boundaries between inside and out. Transforming hard materials such as concrete and glass into delicate finishes, the House in Hiro by Suppose Design Office generates more space through the meticulous use of light and materials, ‘bringing indoors the materials that evoke elements of the outdoors.’
With heavy timber and glass as a trend, the designs also particularly relevant to affordable-housing and prefabricated markets. The book’s last chapter investigates housing needs in developing countries, presenting projects which can be replicated on a large scale, especially post-disaster.
With a strong focus on ‘architecture that follows necessity’, TYIN Tegenstue, a group of students from Norway, presents solutions in response to emergency settlements on the Thai-Burma border, creating sleeping accommodation with simple ingenuity, using recycled materials such as car tyres to case the concrete foundations.
Showing affordability and excellence in design and energy-efficient production, this book is inspiring, a realisation of possibilities in resourceful living and a catalogue of ideas that provides easy yet sophisticated solutions to space shortages making ‘small’ mean more.