Can we live smarter by living smaller?

Can we live smarter by living smaller?

Sophie Xiying Liu

Business Development Manager | 25.02.2020

The concept of “Tiny House” used to be a symbol of the idyllic lifestyle, but can it evolve in the urban environment?

From Le Corbusier’s famous “Babanon” to many mobile tiny houses quietly parked in the countryside, the concept of “Tiny House” has been developed a long time ago and spread out over different regions, representing the lifestyle of idyll and simplicity. But, can we live a life of rural simplicity also in the big cities? It would be really helpful if the concept of tiny houses could develop in the urban environment and support us to form a high-quality but simpler lifestyle there.

“Tiny House” for urban buildings

UN-Habitat predicts that the urban population worldwide will increase by 3 billion between 2010 and 2050 – showing a fast increasing demand for urban housing and other infrastructure. However, land resources are not growing proportionally. Besides, the high housing prices in large cities worldwide has become one of the most severe pressures on urban dwellers.

To provide sufficient, quality, and affordable living spaces in the cities, it’s the time for us to thoroughly explore the potential of implementing the tiny house concept in the urban building construction: Can we live smarter by living smaller? Can we transform the idyllic tiny houses to small apartments in the urban environment that are not only compact but also comfortable? We’d say yes for three main reasons.

First, family size in the most urban areas is getting smaller, in particular in the developed regions. Statistics show that the mean size of households in European countries ranged between three to four people, however, in 2018 one third of households in the EU were single-person households. This changing demographic structure shifts the demand from larger homes to smaller ones.

Second, the lifestyle of simplicity is getting more and more popular in the cities, as a reaction to materialism, luxury and indulgence. People tend to shift their focus from quantity to quality: what matters most is the quality time spent with family and friends, not the size of the apartment, or the number of possessions. The acceptance of small homes gets increasing higher along with the changing lifestyle and mindset.

Third, the rising housing prices in the large cities reduced the affordable areas of the apartments. People have to choose smaller apartments, comparing to the large houses in the rural areas – smaller living spaces in exchange for convenient locations close to the centre.

Among many other reasons, the demographic-structural changes, the simplicity-oriented lifestyle, and the rising housing prices are the main driven forces that push the demand for smaller apartments in the cities. At the supply-side, how can we meet this demand?

Focusing on smarter, adapting to smaller

Small apartments are not new inventions in the large cities, however, to link them with comfort and high-quality, we will need to create some new features that can make the smaller homes smart.

A study shows that “in small homes, you are ‘trading space for place’, so the quality of the space is very important for the livability of residents”. [1] A list of key elements have been identified to improve the functionality and livability of small homes, such as efficient and durable furnishing, sufficient air and light, high level of noise control, flexible and transformable space utilization, fully functional kitchens and bathrooms, etc.

To provide small but comfortable living spaces, we must focus on using space smartly, and it all starts from the architectural design that can add intelligence and livability to small homes. The elements listed above should be embedded in the design and then realised at the construction and operation phases.

Living room and dining place in a small apartment
Living room and dining place in a small apartment, HELLO Lenzburg (CH)

Aufgrund der Anforderungen an hochwertige Materialien, Verarbeitung, Bad und Küche usw. können die durchschnittlichen Kosten (Kosten pro Quadratmeter) kleinerer Wohnungen sogar höher sein als die der grösseren - obwohl die Gesamtkosten der Wohnungen niedriger sind. Um die Kostenwettbewerbsfähigkeit für Investoren bei der Entwicklung von Kleinwohnungsprojekten aufrechtzuerhalten, ist daher ein intelligenter Entwurf mit effizienten und wiederholbaren modernen Bauansätzen der Schlüssel.

Aus diesem Grund glauben wir, dass die modulare Bauweise einen grossen Wert für den städtischen Wohnungsbau hat. Aber um diesen Wert einzubringen, brauchen wir eine enge Zusammenarbeit zwischen Designern, Architekten, Bauherren, Investoren und Bewohnern.

“Tiny House” in building extension

The concept of tiny houses is not only for new building projects but also suitable for vertical extension of the existing buildings. The roofs of these buildings are an addition to the limited land resources that show a large potential to build new homes.

However, due to the limited rooftop area, this type of building extension projects are often only suitable for small apartment development. To make sure that the newly built small apartments not only meet the new residents requirements but also blend in the existing building environment smoothly, communication and collaboration between architects and builders, as well as house owners, are critical. Besides, the project needs to be realized based on the optimized logistics and construction (sometimes also the prefabrication) planning, to minimize the disturbance to the current residents during the construction stage.

A two-storey extension with small apartments on top of a multi-storey residential building in the centre of Lausanne
A two-storey extension with small apartments on top of a multi-storey residential building in the centre of Lausanne

Coming back to the question: “Can we live smarter by living smaller?” We certainly can, as the demand is shifting towards this market segmentation, and we can provide comfort and high quality in smaller living spaces, by adopting cost-competitive construction approaches and using the available land and roof resources in the cities efficiently.

Additional information

More about modular construction approach:

More about building extension in the urban environment:

[1] Project Report: Research Study Exploring Best Practices and Lessons Learned with Small Market Units, Submitted to the Project Advisory Committee by Heather Evans Consulting, Margaret Forbes, and Louise Godard, 2015.

Header photo: James Padolsey, Unsplash

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