The Microhouse

This first example is the micro-compact home (2005) by Horden Cherry Lee architects. It’s been been doing the internet rounds for a while now, photographed in increasingly picturesque locations. The cube is about 2.35m each side = 7.15 sqm. 

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You can almost get an idea what’s going on from these images. I think the TV might slide up and down. Not sure what happens in the underfloor space. 

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You enter through the shower-toilet space that, when you think about it, is conventionally underused. Perhaps this is why one enters into the shower-toilet space of Sanaa’s Okuriyama apartments D, and E below. Have another look. In the future, space will be at a premium so something’s gotta give I guess. Don’t forget to flush before greeting your guests!

mnan_042_1Loftcube has also been making the rounds and, like Horden Cherry Lee’s micro-compact house, its desirability is very much dependent upon the quality of the land upon which it stands or, in this case, rendered. At 40 sqm though, it’s a wannabe villa – a Villa Rotunda, as its symmetry and property implies.

loft03dailyicon At 45 sqm, so is Matti Suuronen’s Venturo prefab of 1972. It was intended as an easily transported house for recreational activities – as you can provocatively surmise from this photo.

2008-01-16_122324-TreeHugger-venturo-fun-outside If one had to chose 20 sqm of living space in Waterworld, one could do worse than the Floating Studio Flat: Eco-friendly one-bedroom floating apartment from the bornrich.com [I kid you not] website.top-day plan-1 Its manufacturers say it’s designed for inland waterways because tidal moorings such as Chelsea [born-rich] Embankment, where a houseboat+mooring are worth about £1,000,000, require houseboats to have double hulls to take the uneven deadload at low tide. Such technical reasons notwithstanding, my main objection is that it hasn’t been designed as an urban solution.

living-chelseaAnd neither has Sean Godsell‘s Eco-Container home, “Future Shack“. It’s designed as emergency housing rather than a permanent housing solution. It’s nevertheless a very integrated solution whose interior displays much ingenuity. But, umm … where do we keep the mattress? [Doh!]container-shelter-home-shack4 It’s designed to fit a standard shipping container. Offhand, it looks like a standard 20′ container with an internal area of 13.5 sqm.

shippincontainersizechart-resized-600 We also have the Lee House (1994), also by Sean Godsell. Having separate public and private routes through the house seems decadent in a house this size, but I accept his argument despite his dubious talk of “devices”. One way of making a space (or a country – the UK for example) seem huge is to make it more arduous to traverse. 

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The scheme centered on a house for a young working couple without children. It is a three level structure with roof terrace, comprising two living spaces, kitchen, eating area, bedroom and bathroom/laundry. The main feature of this house is the illusion of space. Two devices were used, one being a three storey stair well, top lit by a clear glass skylight. By introducing volume and light into an essential traffic route the illusion of distance and travel through the house is enhanced by that volume. The second device was to create two principal traffic routes through the building. There is one public route, taking visitors from the entry point to the second floor living space. The master bedroom is visible to the visitor but not immediately accessible. This has the initial impact of creating confusion. The private traffic route links the bedroom on the first floor to the ground floor living space and garden, which are seen as private areas. Such duality enhances the concept of distance and added to the illusion of space.

Closely related to this is Container Home Box designed by Professor Han Slawik to, again, fit within a standard shipping container. Total area 63 sqm. small-container-home-boxcontainer-home-plan-box2 container-home-plan-box

And closely related to these last two are some small houses I designed as a kind of holiday camp for a piece of wooded land surrounded by fields somewhere in the south-west of England. I swear I knew nothing about Edouard François [a reluctant link – GM] and his ClubMed proposal! My meagre effort seems rather conventional compared to some of the above. Nobody has to shower in the toilet, etc. Sleeps four. 48 sqm. cabin 2Now, older and wiser, when I think about it, there’s no reason to upend your shipping container other than for footprint advantage. If a container’s internal dimensions are 2.35 m x 5.78m = 13.58 sqm when horizontal, and 2.35 m x 2.35 m = 5.52 sqm when vertical – and therefore 5.52 sqm x 3 = 16.6 sqm for three floors, you’ll need to fit your flight of stairs plus landings into less than 1.5 sqm for there to be any spatial advantage. It’s better to just divide your recumbent container into three orthodox rooms and be done with it. Nevertheless, the principle of making something seem larger by making it more difficult to negotiate and impossible to survey in one glance still holds.

As with microflats, sleeping also seems to be a problem with micro-houses. Having a separate bedroom like the Piercy Connor apartment or the houseboat or any of the above including mine, means that a third of the space isn’t fully used or appreciated 24 hours a day. This is not clever. Horden Cherry Lee’s micro-compact home learns from camper vans and acknowledges that most of the things we call furniture are merely surfaces for different activities. And as such, they can be folded away to make space for other objects to take their place. However, the fact that their last micro-compact home (no.16) was commissioned as extra guest accommodation suggests they are little more than novel sleepover cabins.

Here’s a 3m x 3m x 3m cube house for which energy and life cycle have been given some thought. It’s said to be carbon neutral, have no electricity bills and even generate £1,000 a year through the sell-back of electricity generated. It seems churlish to say I don’t much like the planning.

The Baühu Studio Cube is a one bedroom demountable, flat pack building with integral SHOWER room facilities and kitchen sink unit. Modular Baühu Cube 3 m x 7 m, providing total accommodation of around  21 sqm. Baühu Cubes provide instant, stylish, cost effective and comfortable  accommodation anywhere.

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I’m including this because it makes living in 21 sqm seem so easy without any of the elaborate contrivances of say, the similarly-sized houseboat. Even without the deck and the property and view it implies, there’s room to spare inside. Importantly, it’s do-able. It’s not some fanciful proposal but a product on sale now.

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We mustn’t forget Matti Suronen’s Futuro House (1968). Here’s a Matti Suronen tribute tumblr page.

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At 8 m. max. diam. the level floor area is about 50 sqm. Party on!FuturoInterior1_400fut_janesville_gazette2

Bless the Futuro house and its babydoll modboot shagpile. It was progressive in more ways than these. It was probably the first instance of indicating prefabrication by the helicopter-delivery (“Transportation – Our Friend!”) photo-op.

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1968

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1991

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2012

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2012

And also the now-clichéd large-crane-in-action shot.

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1968

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The fundamental contradiction with all of these microhomes is that anyone who can afford a piece of property picturesque or otherwise, usually has some change left for a bespoke dwelling. Sometimes however, the property and the right to view it are the real possession and in cases like these, a prefabricated house can articulate that just as well as the bespoke. A house that “touches the ground lightly” becomes as aesthetically efficient as a house that “grows out of the very land on which it stands”. We really need to find the time to talk about what it is that aesthetics actually indicates.

When the very presence of a building articulates the ownership of property with a magnificent view, we’re back in the realm of The Primitive Hut – which of course has nothing to do with living with an economy of space and possessions.

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Living with an economy of space and possessions is something that was reasonably well explored last century. Now that we’re all workers in need of worker housing, it’s probably worth revisiting some of those solutions and seeing what we can learn from them. In the future, those of us who can afford more than a stacked micoflat are probably going to go for a terraced microhouse.

I expect “The Minumum Dwelling” by Karel Teige (1932) to arrive tomorrow. Thanks again MartinZ.

3 thoughts on “The Microhouse

    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Thanks Simon – the next time I see one I’ll send in a photograph. I think there are a couple more to be found in Perth, Western Australia.

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