A home, a unique architecture that expresses the character and the experiences of its occupants. It is a space designed to reflect an individual’s lifestyle, portray one’s intents and beliefs and represent one’s shelter or safe space. In a consumer-driven lifestyle, homes are exorbitant in size, cluttered with possessions, big generators of waste and with users who have little afterthought of the repercussions of such living conditions.
With land as an ever-shrinking resource, urban centers becoming increasingly dense and the cost of living rising; micro-living units offer a unique solution.
Tiny Homes are a simple, sustainable and environmentally-conscious way of living. They are the epitome of modern minimalist living. They engage in the philosophy of “less is more” by retaining only the essential and stripping away all superficial additions from the built structure as well as the unit’s inhabitable space. Over the years, with improvements in economy and healthcare, people have begun to inculcate the long-term lifestyle, where they invest in houses and possessions, where sprawling homes are placed at the heart of community living. Growth in this pattern of life has been damaging to the environment, excessive use of resources has led to their depletion, scarcity of land has created densely packed congested dwelling units in cities like Hong Kong, New Delhi, etc. where there is a need for a solution, offering quality living conditions independent of their spatial considerations.
Tiny Homes are usually smaller than 200 square feet, some even only 100 square feet; they are based around a concept that can serve a variety of purposes, they could be houses for temporary purposes, for travelers and people looking for transitional stays. They could offer more permanent solutions to solve housing crises in densely populated areas by offering a compact and economical structure. In rural areas, this concept could offer mobility as some tiny homes are placed on wheels. The tiny house concept has evolved into a movement, it explores elements like modularity, pre-fabricated structures, space-saving furniture and truly focuses on the optimal use of spaces. In designing a tiny house, one understands the purpose of each item, its role in our daily life; this results in extremely personal and customized tiny homes that often inculcate the needs and the lifestyles of its users. It is a phenomenological approach to design which inquires into the impact of each element of design on the space and how it interacts with the user.
Sarah Susanka, an architect states, “When the place where we live is right-sized for the way we really live and for the things that really matter to us, we ourselves are in balance. Focus on both sensibility and liveability” in her book, “The Not So Big House, 1998”. She talks about how it is crucial to judge a space by its soul, not its square footage and how quality is in the details which create a comfortable suit. The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is a firm dedicated to the Tiny house movement, which designs and manufactures tiny homes for people. In addition to selling tiny homes, Tumbleweed also organizes workshops to teach people how to create tiny homes and live sustainably.
The benefits and applications of micro-living were realized for a project in New York, Carmel Place which is a building with micro-units at 260 sq. feet each, it comprises of 55 units and is 9 stories tall. All the units are prefabricated and assembled on site. Each individual apartment has features that make it seem bigger, with 9 feet tall ceilings, Juliette balconies, built-in furniture, and a large multi-living open space. The design allows for flexible, modular and creative use of space.
While the benefits of living in tiny homes are abundant, there are some serious limitations also. The obvious problems of lack of privacy, limited space if there are to be multiple occupants in the same space, etc. are very clear. But other deterrents could be more passive, like the inability to accommodate different physical abilities. Many tiny homes feature a separate split-level for beds, which could prove to be challenging for specially-abled individuals to access. Living in tiny homes also has a societal impact, it is often associated with people who do not have sufficient means. All these reasons, some even trivial; still prevent the tiny house movement from going mainstream.
The need for a middle ground approach, wherein conscious design decisions are made which don’t allow for excesses but rather incorporate optimum space requirement conditions and passive design features would be a better approach. The ultimate design should be a balance between the tiny home philosophy and what it stands for with the requirements and resources of the users of the space. The core elements of the tiny living concepts, considerations of the environment and the economy could create a positive influence on the approach to residential design.