Nanotecture by Rebecca Roke proves that small-scale architecture isn't just about tiny houses.

Fantastic Small-Scale Architecture Can Include More Than Tiny Houses

Fantastic Small-Scale Architecture Can Include More Than Tiny Houses

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
June 22 2016 8:54 AM

Fantastic Small-Scale Architecture Can Include More Than Tiny Houses

034 Bridge
Paper Bridge designed by artist Steve Messam, Cumbria, U.K., 2015. Made from 22,000 sheets of red paper that are not held together with glue or other adhesives, the self-supporting bridge was built using the structural principles of dry stone walls. A temporary installation that was capable of supporting the weight of “one person,” it was dismantled and recycled.

Phaidon

Long before tiny houses were a lifestyle trend, architects, designers, and artists were creating small-scale buildings that allowed them to experiment and take creative risks. Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things, published recently by Phaidon, is a fun little book that “presents 300 examples of small built works that illustrate how tiny projects can convey interesting design resolutions,” author Rebecca Roke writes in the introduction, “all the more compelling for being made in miniature.”

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Perhaps since nobody can agree on the exact dimension of what constitutes “tiny,” Roke divided the book into five chapters of small works that she organizes into categories using a Starbucks-like naming system that she has labeled from micro to mini to midi to macro to maxi.

“Whether micro or macro, many of the projects in this book are designed to be constructed as efficiently as possible,” she writes, adding that “tiny built things frequently convey a sense of freedom to experiment without the weighty responsibility of a large budget or complex functional requirements.”   

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And while many of the structures, which span the globe and were built in the past few decades, are variations on temporary or permanent housing, the book includes site-specific artworks, pavilions, sheds, installations, cabins, treehouses, animal shelters, and more, many of which are demountable, portable, inflatable, and otherwise ingenious and inventive in their design and construction methods.                                

“Nanotecture is a celebration of the small, the compact, the miniature and the tiny,” Roke writes, adding that the “inspiring, surprising and delightful” small-scale architecture featured in the book “illustrates that size is no barrier to architectural creativity.”

196  Glass House
Glass House, Milan, 2012. Following in the modernist tradition of Philip Johnson’s Glass House (1949) or Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951), this three-story glass house by Italian architect Carlo Santambrogio is all about the 360-degree view.

Phaidon

265 GRID
Emergency GRID housing by Carter Williamson Architects, Sydney, 2002. The insulated steel-framed structure is prefabricated and flat-packed and can be assembled in as little as four hours.

Phaidon

230 United Bottle
The United Bottle Project by Instant Architects, Switzerland, 2007. This prototype structure makes use of discarded plastic water bottles, which can be refilled with soil or other materials and stacked to create temporary disaster relief shelters.

Phaidon

030 Bicycle Sauna
Bike Sauna by H3T Architects, Czech Republic, 2011. This portable sauna was designed to be towed by a tandem bicycle. Made of translucent polycarbonate panels bolted to a cylindrical timber frame and braced across an axle, it is heated via an interior fireplace and equipped with wooden benches that can seat six.

Phaidon

156 Inflatable Space
Inflatable Space, Essex, U.K., 2010. Designed by Phillip Schöne and Emma Penttinen for the Essex County Council, this nylon folly was built as a pavilion for a housing estate used by local residents for festivals and children’s events. The designers modeled its bulbous shape on the “visual language of insects—bugs and butterflies being especially liked by local children,” Roke writes.

Phaidon

174 Exbury Egg
Exbury Egg by PAD Studio and Stephen Turner, Exbury, England, 2013. Moored on an inlet of the Beaulieu River in Hampshire, the oval structure is a workspace and home for artist Stephen Turner that rises and falls with the estuary’s tides.

Phaidon

019 Sphere Houses
Sphere Houses by Free Spirit Spheres, Vancouver Island, Canada, 1998. Adult-sized treehouse hotel accommodations whose circular rooms have small windows to frame forest views.

Phaidon

120 OTIS
OTIS (Optimal Travelling Independent Space), Vermont, 2013. Designed to be towed on a standard trailer by a four-cylinder car, this small transportable house is an exploration into small-scale living built by students at Green Mountain College under the direction of Environmental Studies Professor, Lucas Brown. The 226-square-foot timber house is powered by a single 120-watt solar panel and includes a rainwater system.

Phaidon

044 Cristal Bubble
Cristal Bubble by Pierre Stéphane Dumas, France, 2010. These transparent glamping bubbles are available to rent in Bubble Lodges throughout France, Spain, and Switzerland. Inflated by a noiseless ventilation system that filters air, prevents humidity, and retains the spherical shape without framing or other structural support, the bubbles are easily dismounted and reassembled.

Phaidon

277 Concert Hall
Concert Hall by Didzis Jaunzems Architecture, Gauja, Latvia, 2014. Built for an environmentally themed event, this concert hall is designed to have a light footprint while providing shelter and acoustics. The zigzagging steel frame rests on just four points and is clad with bands of acoustic textile, which can be rotated like louvres. When open they allow music to travel further afield while filtering light in; when closed they create a taut screen for scenographic projections. A platform for a symphonic chamber orchestra of 20 musicians forms the base of the structure.

Phaidon

028 Mirror
Mirror House was a temporary installation by sculptor Ekkehard Altenburger that floated in the water on the Isle of Tyree, Scotland, in 1996.

Phaidon

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.