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Size Doesn't Matter: Big Ideas for Small Buildings

Taschen’s latest volume draws together the architectural underdogs that, despite their minute, whimsical forms, are setting bold new trends for design

When economies falter and construction halts, what happens to architecture? Rather than indulgent, personal projects, the need for small and perfectly formed spaces is becoming an economic necessity, pushing designers to go further with less. In their new volume Small: Architecture Now!, Taschen have drawn together the teahouses, cabins, saunas and dollhouses that set the trends for the small, sensitive and sustainable, with designers ranging from Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban to emerging young practices.


Beetle’s House at the V&A Museum, London by Terunobu Fujimori

Built as a part of the ‘1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces 2010” Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Fujimori’s teahouse on stilts references the Japanese tradition for small, independent teahouse structures. As Fujimori writes, ‘the Japanese teahouse is the one and only example of small building acknowledged as a building type’.  

Charcoal, representative of black tea, was used for the interior and exterior finishes to create a small, intimate haven. Fujimori initially wanted to suspend the teahouse, although for the exhibition this proved not feasible and was instead raised on legs.


Digital process : PixSolution

Hut on Sleds in New Zealand by Crosson Clarke Carnachan

Located in a coastal erosion zone on the Coromandel Peninsula, this hut was required to be removable. The result is a small wooden construct that can be moved across the beach on wooden sleds and loaded on to a barge with ease, described by the practice as ‘unplug and go’.

With a natural palette of materials inspired by beach artifacts and lifeguard towers, the macrocarpa timber-clad hut can accommodate a family of five. The cladding can either be raised to create awnings or closed to the elements, and at the rear ‘flat sheet’, a cheap, traditional material for New Zealand holiday homes, covers the structure. The result is a sensitive, flexible configuration that respects its precarious situation in a dune environment.


Endémico Resguardo Silvestre in Mexico by Gracia Studio

Garcia Studio, founded by Mexican-born Jorge Gracia Garcia, dotted their ‘design hotels’ all over a 99-hectare site in Baja California, complete with a winery to respond to the region’s wine-production. Garcia Studio were asked to respect the setting as much as possible, which resulted in steel skeletons that float above the soil.

Core-ten steel cladding continues the region’s dusty orange tint and provides resistance to weathering. The hotel rooms were imagined as forming a luxury camping site, offering proximity to nature along with basic living requirements.


Fireplace for Children in Norway by Haugen/Zohar

Working with a limited budget (something Oslo-born Marit Justine Haugen and Israeli Dan Zohar are familiar with) this small hut in Trondheim used waste materials from a nearby building site. 80 layered circles of pine sit atop a concrete base, their radii gradually reducing to create a gumdrop chimney shape. A curved sliding door can be used to close the indoor fireplace. As well as receiving an Honourable Mention in the Trondgeim Municipality Building Prize, the fireplace was included in the AR’s top 25 for the 2009 Emerging Architecture Awards.


Home-for-all in Iwate, Japan by Toyo Ito

After 70% of the city of Rikuzentakata was destroyed by an earthquake in March 2011, Toyo Ito called on three younger architects, Kumo Inui, Sou Fujimoto and Akihisa Hirata, to design a ‘Home for All, a place in which residents could ‘gain peace of mind and nurture their energy for the city’s reconstruction’.

Photographer Naoya Hatakeyama, the Japan Foundation and a range of other organisation supported the construction of the ten-meter-high cedar structure, the spiralling plan of which creates raised platforms that appear suspended in space.


Riverside House in Tokyo by Kota Mizuishi

On a small, triangular site sitting between a river and a road, Kota Mizuishi designed this small dwelling for a couple and their daughter. A dining and kitchen area occupy most of the floor space, and the living area features windows on both sides to emphasise the house’s situation.

A long overhang helps make the most of the tiny lot, with a loft area that looks up towards the sky and down to the river, topped by a galvanised steel sheet roof.


Sol Duc Cabin in Washington by Olson Kundig Architects

Built in the Olympic Peninsula, Olson Kundig’s steel cabin is raised on steel columns to protect it against occasional flooding. The client requested a virtually indestructible cabin that would be low maintenance and used during fishing trips.

A small sleeping loft sits above a living area and kitchen, with a steel deck extending to give views of the river.


Delta Shelter in Washington by Olson Kundig Architects

Similar to the Sol Duc Cabin, this shelter in Mazama is also raised on stilts, which also provides raised views of the natural surroundings. A hand-cranked mechanism allows for the opening of steel shutters that provide defence against severe weather.

The remoteness of the site meant that the Delta Shelter had to be prefabricated then assembled on location.


Madison Avenue (Doll)House in New York by REX

REX was approached by Calvin Klein’s company to design a miniature house that would be displayed in the window of its Madison Avenue store during the 2008-9 holiday season, showing off the company’s pieces.

REX took the concept of the ‘Calvin Klein woman’, a city dweller, and created a frivolous house in miniature, drawing from the minimalist design of the store’s designer, John Pawson and furnishing the home with miniature Calvin Klein accessories.


Ark Booktower at the V&A Museum, London by Rintala Eggertsson Architects

Also created for the V&A Small Spaces exhibition, Rintala Eggertson built a temporary, freestanding wooden tower in the National Art Library stairwell. Described as ‘an escape from the physical space of the museum into the mental space of literature’, the tower is full of hundreds of secondhand books, arranged so that on the tower’s exterior only the white paper of the book’s edges is visible.

The interior is a colourful collage of book spines and themes – ‘to learn of the contents of the books, one has to enter the tower’


Portal of Awareness by Rojkind Arquitectos in Mexico City

Commissioned by Nescafé, the Portal of Awareness sweeps over one of Mexico City’s most important avenues – the Paseo de la Reforma.

Seven artists working with Michel Rojkind used 1500 metal coffee mugs, hanging them from a woven rebar pattern that sits in steel planters. The desired sense of movement is emphasised by the subtle changes in colour, from deep brown-reds to fiery oranges.


Yingst Pavilion and Sauna in Michigan by Salmela Architecture

Located in a 6.5 hectare wood five kilometres from Lake Michigam, the Yingst Pavilion and Sauna are part of a larger retreat complex, also by David Salmela of Salmela Architecture.

The pavilion uses three structural timber frames and flat trusses clad in black Richlite panels, assuming an unusual, jagged shape. The white sauna is far more understated, a simple white cube with a sod roof that allows it to blend into the forest.


Pillar House in Tokyo by Suzuko Yamada Architects

Built in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum in Ueno Park, the Pillar House was first presented as a model for the 2011 competition ‘Arts & Life: A Housing for Living’.

As the winning entry, Yamada had the opportunity to build a full-scale version of the model. Yamada drew on what she saw as the ‘traditional and familiar’ pillar that old Japanese houses tended to have at their centre, and imagined several in one house to create a sense of openness and shelter.


Quinta Botanica in Portugal by Shigeru Ban

Built on a cliff above the ocean in the southernmost area of Portugal, the Quinta Botanica’s site is owned by an art and plant collector. Shigeru Ban’s structure acts as both an installation and a residence for visiting artists and botonists. Identical structurally to Ban’s 1995 Paper House, wooden joints, paper tubes and lag bolts make up the foundation, a system that is capable of withstanding both lateral forces and vertical loads. The project avoids cutt­­ing down trees by weaving through the wooded area, gradually decreasing in width. Due to local doubts regarding the structure’s stability, the owner ordered the materials himself piece-by-piece, completing the project over a ten year time span.­­­

Small: Architecture Now!

Author: Philip Jodido

Publisher: Taschen

Buy it here: £34.99


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