Microhouses: A Small Solution for Big Problems


The recent launching of Kodasema's microhouse project in the UK stirred up a debate surrounding the viability of the structures. While not a new concept, the typology is still a niche architectural trend and one that is creating controversy in the industry.

The microhouse  trend is dated back to 1990's Japan; when the structures first appeared as a solution to Tokyo's high real estate prices, which led the younger population to reconsider life in suburban settings. "Kyosho Jutaku" or "micro homes" became increasingly popular, as the population-and prices-continued to grow.

That, paired with the idea of "no space gone to waste"-which promotes a slower growth rate in terms of urban area-made microhouses an appealing solution to tackle urban cities' shortage of buildable space.

Microhouses: A Small Solution for Big Problems

Koda House, designed by Kodasema

Part of the debate surrounding the trend centers around the level of comfort a user might experience in such a dwelling. Many space efficient housing solutions, such as micro apartments, operate under "optimal space" guides. These guides determine the minimum amount of space a human being needs in order to move comfortably around their livable space, forsaking its habitable quality.

Often the greatest challenge when building a microhome is utilizing the maximum amount of livable space within a small surface, mixing leisure, comfort, and space efficiency.

Different Microhouses for Different Problems

While all microhouses are tiny, they come in unique qualities and shapes, depending on the setting they are inserted in. Microhousing can be used as a solution to utilize infill spaces that might otherwise be empty in crowded cities with high density and expensive plots of land. Not everyone is a fan of the trend, though. Some argue that the structures aren't solving this problem but actually contribute to the uncontrolled densification of urban spaces.

In urban spaces without a density problem, Microhouses can be viewed as an environmentally friendly way to build. Smaller houses consume less energy from construction to habitation, by using fewer materials and requiring less energy to be kept warm or lighted. Smaller houses also occupy smaller plots, which means the city won't expand to occupy agricultural lands. Instead, the smaller plot area they occupy allows for more green spaces and the creation of green lungs across the city.

Microhousing is also commonly used to promote environmentally friendly and cheap vacation spaces in natural settings, including tree houses and small cabins. Additionally, their small size also allows them to be prefabricated, which reduces construction costs and makes them budget friendly- and even more appealing.

Microhouses: A Small Solution for Big Problems

Tiny House, designed by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design

Designing a Microhouse

How can you make a microhouse that's not only space efficient, but also comfortable and aesthetically pleasing? When designing these tiny structures, every detail counts.

One of the keys to achieving a well-designed microhome is the use of light, as a tiny house with plenty of illumination will feel less crowded. The use of reflective surfaces and light reflective colors can also help with the illusion of open spaces, especially when compared to a monochrome palette. Light can be used as an element of design by creating "fractures" in the project's shell, creating the impression of lightness and expanding the line of view.

Adding green spaces into the design can create the illusion of open spaces and add richness to the layout, especially in dense urban settings with a scarcity of nature.

Keeping storage spaces out of sight by making them a part of the structure helps to keep the house uncluttered, as visual clutter contributes to making a room look smaller than it is.

Whether you find yourself wanting to live in an expensive city, are in need of a cheap and fast solution to building a vacation home, or want to live in an energy-efficient and budget friendly house, microhouses are worth considering. Cheap, comfortable, fast to build and easy to maintain: these houses are here to stay.

Microhouses: A Small Solution for Big Problems

Mipibu House, designed by Terra e Tuma

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Comments (3)

Kendel, Architectural Draftsperson • 2017

We lived in an old, old house on our family farm for 11 years where we had to pump water from the dam then bucket into the toilet to flush it. Taking a little responsibility for low standard of living, we were too busy farming. I finally dropped my bundle, threatened to leave and we built a gorgeous new home on the farm (solar passive) the lot. 18 months later due to family circumstances, we left leaving a brand new home. We moved into a old beach shack in Nornalup WA, tidied it up then.... left. We moved to Albany, bought a house, kids in school and guess what.... are leaving back to the shack. The shack is short of bedrooms and an office (we still farm & I am a draftsman) so am looking at using a couple of sea containers to solve my problem. The reason why - if I have to move again I am taking the buggers with me. Small modular buildings work for me I think even if living on a farm.

Philip, Architect • 2017

Smaller makes sense but there's a balance that needs to be achieved to accommodate very human needs for elbow room, places to store things of importance and of course access to the outdoors and the natural world.

Given the the vast majority of housing is viewed by the finance sector and many policy makers as nothing more than real estate commodities to be built on the cheap, Micro houses could be seen as yet another trendy way to extract double digit profits at the expense of quality of life and wellbeing.

This poses a bigger issue than whether or not micro dwellings are here to stay. Maybe a topic for a different blog on policy and the role of design professionals in enabling better quality of life and higher levels of fulfillment, both of which are taking nose dives at the present time

Sarah, Architect Office - Other • 2017

Thanks for your feedback Philip. We would be keen to hear any ideas you may have on how you might bridge the gap between micro dwellings and quality of life.