In pictures: Big ideas for small spaces

Scaling down doesn’t have to mean cramped or uncomfortable, as some of the world’s leading architects demonstrate in imaginative and clever designs

Hut on Sleds on Whangapoua Beach, New Zealand by Crosson Clarke Carnachan

Hut on Sleds on Whangapoua Beach, New Zealand by Crosson Clarke Carnachan

Wed, Sep 3, 2014, 14:20

A year can be a long time in publishing. In his introduction to Small Architecture Now, published this summer by Taschen, author Philip Jodido asks “what happens when economies falter and construction grinds nearly to a halt?”

His answer is that architectural innovation doesn’t stop, it just finds smaller, less expensive ways to express itself. That may be true, but small architecture remains in the news as property prices rise.

Even if the world’s leading architects are lured back to larger, sexier projects, those wanting or needing to live in the world’s capital cities, who don’t happen to fall into the property catchment areas of the global super rich, still need smaller solutions.

Gallery: Click on the book cover to launch

Earlier this summer, a tiny studio flat (read: one room) in London, made the headlines as, although it had been snapped up in just 16 hours at a rent of £737 per month, Islington Borough Council imposed an order to prevent the transaction, saying it was too small to live in.

In Islington the property consisted of a room with a corner kitchen, and a bed so positioned that you could make tea and do the washing up without leaving the warmth and comfort of your bed.

While this might be a student’s idea of heaven, small doesn’t have to be squalid or ridiculously cramped. The best architects are expert problem solvers, so what happens when their skills are applied to the challenge of scaling down, and can art help?

Artists and architecture

Art and architecture have an interesting relationship, sometimes fraught, sometimes flirtatious, and Jodido brings artists into the mix in the book too. American artist Frank Stella once said that architects were “guys in suits who can’t paint”, while his fellow artist, Claes Oldenburg, was of the opinion that “the difference between art and architecture is that architecture has windows and toilets”. Jodido cites projects by Olafur Eliasson and Christine Iglesias to illustrate his thesis that art’s focus on the “useless” can have a profoundly positive impact on how we live.

Eliasson’s Color Activity House at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanzawa, Japan; and Iglesias’ Vegetation Room Inhotim at the Inhotim Contemporary Art Institute, Brazil, both demonstrate how colour, light and reflection can change how you think and feel about yourself, and about the place you’re in – a crucial message at any scale.

Of course small architecture is nothing new. Japanese tea houses have long championed the small is beautiful message. In Amsterdam, the atmospheric city streets are populated by vertical narrow strips of houses; and anyone with experience of apartment-hunting at the lower end of the scale in New York will be familiar with baths in kitchens that double up as tables – an innovation that was also seen in Ireland in Dublin’s Pearse House Flats, built in the 1930s.