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Shrinking to Fit the Interstices
Sarah Rich, 20 Mar 07
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Urban density makes sustainable cities possible. The more closely together we live, the more we share amenities, and the less space we take up for our personal needs, the smaller our collective footprints become. But getting more compact means changing the commonly accepted correlation between McMansions and good living.

The Japanese lead the way in proving the benefits of small spaces. By virtue of long-held tradition and the necessity of finding comfort in populous cities like Tokyo, designing homes for tiny in-between spaces has become a modern art.

A BusinessWeek piece this week covers the trend of micro-homes in Japan, and the ways that mass-manufacturing can permit the precision and flexibility required to adjust according to what's available for building a little home in the city. It features architect, Satoshi Kurosaki, who specializes in mini dwellings, many of which willingly sacrifice right angles in order to maximize space on odd-size lots. The SEVEN, shown in the front picture, is 5-stories tall, comprising a total of 68 square meters or 734 square feet. In addition to custom homes, Kurosaki designs apartment buildings that appear to be equally conservative and clever in the design of individual units in order to get as many as possible into one building.

Another prime example of a Japanese design firm that embraces urban interstices is Atelier Bow Wow, who actually published a book a few years back called Pet Architecture Guidebook -- a survey of a category of architecture they dubbed "Pet" in recognition of the way that "minute buildings [are] squeezed onto tiny plots or into the gaps between larger buildings, like pets next to their masters." (From a 2005 Icon piece on the firm.) Their recently completed "House Tower" (shown as a cutaway here) sits on a 42.29 square meter plot and manages to squeeze out 65.28 square meters of floor area over 5 stacked levels. The team uses primarily steel and reinforced concrete in their buildings (steel being a recyclable material).

Prefabrication comes in handy for many of these small space designers, particularly in a place where high-tech manufacturing reigns supreme. A company called Commdesign (also mentioned in BusinessWeek) sells homes in addition to other tools and electronics, demonstrating the potential utilitarian nature of living space production.


And on the utilitarian angle, the housing company, Tsubomi, characterize their compact prefab product as an "aluminum space packaging system (aluminum being another highly recyclable material). Their standardized manufactured units can be stacked and arranged to fit various site limitations. Talk about zero-waste -- these Japanese housing models demonstrate that if you can find a spare bit of air in a dense urban area, you can put a skin around it and call it home.

(Much "Google Translate" went into researching these mostly-Japanese language sites, so if you speak/read Japanese and have corrections for me, or additional useful info about the designs, I welcome the insight!)

Photos: Satoshi Kurosaki and Atelier Bow Wow

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Thanks for taking the extra time with the translator! Fascinating.

Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 22 Mar 07

Very interesting concept, but would you actualy want to live in one of these mini-houses?

The other question that I have is how these pre-fab units are adapted to different lots.


Thomas Douthat
San Juan, PR

Posted by: Thomas Douthat on 24 Mar 07

the "house tower" link is broken, here's the right one, i think

Posted by: hibiscus on 25 Mar 07

It is maybe small, but in fact do we need a house big as a castle when most of the time only 2 persons are living in!! We may have lots of room here in North America but one day we will have to face it and we may have no choice (at least in big town) to leave in those kind of houses.

Posted by: stephane on 1 Apr 07



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