The ultimate in downsizing
The Diogene micro-house is tiny at 6sqm but has a bathroom, kitchen and livingroom
The Diogene micro-house
Werner Aisslinger’s Loft Cube
The m-ch, which stands for micro compact home
Bijou, compact, deceptively spacious, more than enough room to swing a cat . . . I’ve heard them all. But, finally, a house that makes my 27sq m (300sq ft) Dublin artisan cottage look positively enormous. Renzo Piano, architect of what was (briefly) Europe’s tallest building, the Shard in London, has come up with the Diogene: a 6sq m (65sq ft) micro-house that manages to pack in a living room that doubles up as a bedroom, a bathroom and kitchen area.
It even has a water collection system and solar panels to power it all and is small enough to fit into the back of a lorry. With a price tag of £17,000 (€19,560) is the Diogene just a gimmick, or might micro living, the ultimate in downsizing, actually catch on?
Not so big
Since British-born, US-based architect Sarah Susanka published The Not So Big House in 1997, the Small House Movement has been gathering momentum, as an antidote to badly designed, sprawling spaces.
Small spaces are nothing new. Mine is one of those single-storey terraced houses that were built at the beginning of the 1900s in a bid to clear the tenements and slow the spread of TB.
It’s just about big enough for one, or two people (at a pinch), though the 1911 census shows that a family of eight once lived in it.
But the Diogene is five times smaller than my tiny house, and smaller even than the minimum size of 7sq m (75.3 sq ft) that Judge Michael Reilly, as inspector of Prisons, recommended for a single occupancy cell in 2010.
So with that in mind, would you consider living in one? Or be planning to put one in the garden for granny?
Piano himself sees it more as a weekend retreat. David Griffin, of Pods Ireland, who sells more traditional-style mini-houses (see panel) in Ireland, agrees.
The market, he says, is more for retreats, overnight guest accommodation, and the glamping end of camping, than day-to-day living.
Estate agent Simon Ensor of Sherry FitzGerald is not convinced that buyers would be queuing up for the Diogene and comments that the look and style of it is less than attractive . “For such a renowned architect, it doesn’t seem as if much architectural design has gone in to it,” he says.
Piano would beg to differ describing it as “the final result of a long, long journey partially driven by desires and dreams, but also by technicality and a scientific approach”.
The technical aspects are impressive, as the Diogene has been designed to be self-sufficient. But it’s true, it’s not an object of great beauty.
“It would have its uses,” says Ensor, “maybe as a fishing lodge on a country estate, if you wanted to stay overnight. But do I think you’ll be driving down the street in Sandycove and see five or six of them? No.”
Piano says he was influenced by Le Corbusier’s 13 sq m (144sq ft) Cabanon, designed in 1949. But Le Corbusier, who famously called houses “machines for living”, brought a warmth to his mini-space.
Peter Carroll, director of the award-winning A2 Architects (a2.ie), agrees. “This is probably the closest thing one could imagine to living in an off-the-shelf product . . . It is more like a caravan or a car than a house.
“It doesn’t reflect anything I would aspire towards in terms of minimum existence . . . I can’t imagine I’d enjoy being holed-up in such a container, it’s all mod cons but no joie de vivre,” he adds. “Life is for living, not for surviving within a box!”
Also lining up against the idea of a swathe of Diogenes affecting Ireland’s property market is Vincent Finnegan, an estate agent, who sold what was possibly Ireland’s smallest living space in 2003: the return of a Georgian house on Leeson Place, that measured 120 sq ft (it fetched €127,000).
Piano’s design is too “shed-like” to catch on, he says, though “there may be a market for festivals and events, an office in the back garden; just not for living.”
One person who would have approved of the Diogene is Diogenes.
The 4th century BC Greek, who inspired the naming of Piano’s ultimate essay in bijou living and who was the founder of cynical philosophy, is said to have lived in a ceramic jar. Time to buy a cat and start practising your swing?