Shelter: Making Room in Small Spaces

By Rebecca Irvin

The cleverer I am at miniaturising the world, the better I possess it.
                                                     Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

The world is a big place. We seek out a private corner of it, a little space of our own. We put walls around the space and a roof on top. We give it ways in and ways out. We call it home. It needn’t be large and it needn’t be grand. Just give us room for ourselves and a few favourite possessions: from this we build a home. Huts, tepees, yurts, tents, igloos and grass houses all stand as testaments to the fact that, throughout history, human beings the world over have made room for themselves in small spaces.

Today, in response to the rising costs of land and home ownership, design and architecture companies like ARK, Kengo Kuma, Ecocapsule, Nomad, Grimshaw, Green Magic Homes, OFIS Arhitekti and AKT II – and even the minimalist Japanese retailers Muji – are coming up with economically viable, eco-friendly and ergonomic solutions in the form of micro-dwellings. These prefabricated, compact living units, complete with domestic amenities and space-saving devices such as transformable furniture, foldaway beds and hidden storage, offer little pockets of shelter designed to impact minimally on the environments in which they are placed, while at the same time delivering comfort and liveability. It is not about limitation and compromise in making the space smaller; it is about using the given space more creatively and effectively.

This kind of tiny living is also designed with adaptability in mind: for those who want to escape the commotion of metropolitan living, the pods can be situated in the midst of nature without spoiling the landscape. Meanwhile for the city-dwellers, these micro homes can be placed in disused urban spaces such as warehouses, factory yards and industrial lots, making them an ingenious and resourceful solution to the ever-growing costs of living centrally in large cities.


This is an initiative already taken up successfully in Japan, where innovations around the concept of Kyosho Jutaku (Micro Homes) have led to the appearance of pod-like houses and cocoon-esque hotel rooms as a way of densifying the city – filling in the gaps as opposed to peripheral expansion.

Now, the potential for the repurposing of industrialised urban sites as domestic environments in capital cities like London is being explored at London Design Festival. A collaborative effort between architectural firm OFIS Arhitekti and civil engineering consultancy AKT II has produced micro-home prototypes to be on public display throughout the festival at Old Street Yard, White Collar Factory. Living Unit is an initiative rooted in the companies’ shared vision of turning underused central city locations into spaces for economically sound and justifiable housing development, the idea being that, rather than expanding the city at its borders, we might make better use of the space already available to us in the pre-existing urban landscape. The unit prototype amazingly measures just 4.5m x 2.5m x 2.7m. Despite its smallness, the little wooden pod contains all the basic necessities to comfortably accommodate two occupants: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bed and a space to sit. For more than two people or for a larger living space, other units can be connected laterally or vertically. Visitors to the London Design Festival are invited to explore the interiors of the micro-dwellings and contemplate the prospect of a life and home scaled down.

OFIS Arhitekti and AKT II hope that the installation will open up debates about sustainable living and push for research into design-led micro-home development. The project envisions a future in which an ever-growing population might be able to make room for itself in a way that saves space without compromising on the quality and comfort of domestic living. With London’s house prices soaring and the city’s inhabitants being forced to settle further and further from the centre, Living Unit could be the future of affordable, liveable housing.



Images courtesy of London Design Festival

In conjunction with OFIS Arhitekti and AKT II

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