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October 27, 2016

A Small Survey of Small Dwellings III

John Sheehan

Way back in June - I started a three-part series on micro-units. After a long break, during which we launched our new website – I return here with my final installment. My initial post suggested that people tend to “go small” for three basic reasons. 1. To pare down. 2. To be near the action. 3. To reduce living expenses. Simplicity, Location and Thrift. Following, I present three examples of tiny homes (old and new) where the occupants made lifestyle choices based upon budget.

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[1]  Trinity Houses  | 

Small and tall…these 3 story (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) homes were built primarily in Philadelphia and Baltimore in the late 1700’s. The three “one-room” floors are linked by a snug spiral staircase that corkscrews up through the stack. These were the homes of colonial era tradespeople and artisans who flocked to the city seeking economic opportunity. Wealthy homeowners in the city often built a row of these at the back (alley side) of their parcel to house their servants. Sometimes referred to as “bandboxes” –  the  homes typically included a basement kitchen and a small attic…making them actually 5 levels – each less than 200 square feet in size. The house's small footprint made these extremely economical to build from a cost-of-land perspective. These quirky yet highly efficient vertical cottages offer one more reason to love Philadelphia. 

A simple drawing of a simple idea 

You want to move the king size mattress up these? 

Even a small home deserves a great entrance 

the “other” reason to love Philly

[1]  Nakagin Capsule Tower |

This is frugal vertical living taken to another extreme. Designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurwkowa the tower was built in 1972 – and looks like it. One can easily imagine this as the pied-a-terre of Barbarella or Jorge Jetson. The 140 concrete capsules were prefabbed off site, hoisted into place and bolted to the central shafts that contain the services, stairs and elevators.  Each measures a modest 7 feet X 12 feet X 6.9 feet. Modules could be combined for more “spacious” accommodations. The interiors feel like something between a VW Westfalia and the Apollo 9 Lunar Module. A bathroom unit, about the size of an airplane lavatory, occupies one corner of the capsule. A giant round window above the built-in bed offers a view to the city. Original built-ins included: kitchen sink and stove, refrigerator, storage cabinets, a television and a reel-to-reel tape deck…everything for the mid-century Japanese “salaryman”. More shots can be seen here.

Some have commented on the resemblance to stackable washing machines…

“please familiarize yourself with the emergency exit instructions detailed on the card in the seat pocket in front of you…”

[3]  Footprints in the Sand | 

 With buildings sprouting up in Seattle (birthplace of the modern micro-flat) and Portland – Footprint is developing micro-housing that is affordable and flexible aimed at a growing demographic of urban nomads.  Many of their units hover around 200 sf and feel a lot like a dorm room. Outfitted with a tiny kitchenette (akin to something you might find in a budget motel) and a bed  - the operating premise is that most renters sleep, shower, change their clothes and eat (not necessarily cook) and little else in their unit.  Footprint on its website emphasizes “community” and touts the benefits of the project’s common kitchen, roof deck, and laundry/lounge in addition to their “where-the-action-is urban locations. This is housing for people without stuff or pets (or presumably significant others…units only accommodate a twin sized bed). Still – Footprint seems to be serving a niche for affordable urban crash pads…at least for short term renters who are on their way up and out to bigger and better. Perhaps Toehold might have been another branding alternative? 

Don't need a big kitchen to create big flavor.

The ulimate laundry room / common room

Neighbors that cook together stay together.

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