What I’m Reading: Houses & Apartments Under 1000 Square Feet, ed. Yuri Caravaca Gallardo

At the library recently, I picked a copy of Yuri Caravaca Gallardo’s Houses & Apartments Under 1000 Square Feet, a photo-book showcasing small houses and apartments. At up to 1000 square feet, many of the spaces featured are still bigger than a lot of everyday studio and one-bedroom apartments — but the emphasis is on spaces that do more with less, focusing on creative and functional modern design solutions.

In an ever more populated world — and with major cities even here in Canada becoming increasingly expensive to live in — architecture focused on making the most of small spaces seems particularly germane. The country most represented in the collection is Japan, a country often associated with dense population centres and innovative, minimalist solutions. But micro-design has a place anywhere — not just to make space in large cities, but to live more sustainably and economically in any environment.

Modernist minimal aesthetics are prominent in the collection: for example, one of the last buildings showcased, Satoshi Kurosaki’s “Ring” is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s “Villa Savoye,” and hits several of his “5 Points of a New Architecture,” most noticeably ribbon windows and a free façade. The building also features a fairly open inner floor plan, and a cantilevered second-floor ring of steel and concrete that hangs over the front entryway, reminiscent of Villa Savoye’s pilotis. These modernist principles of openness and simplicity certainly have a place in micro-architecture, avoiding clutter and claustrophobia; but the most modernist of the structures also can seem cold, or evoke an elite and luxurious sense with sleek materials.

More exciting are the personalized solutions, and other, fresher trends that emerge. Creative use of vertical space is a key factor, with many of the houses situated on tiny or irregularly shaped lots — zig-zagged floor plans with lofts and built-in storage are a frequent occurrence. There is also an emphasis on light and openness — large windows are common, using light “to amplify the space” (Gallardo 136); and “permeability” is cited in many designs — trees that cross indoors, cutting through storeys, are found in both “Love House” and “3×9 House” (one of my personal favourites), adding a whimsical touch that questions the whole notion of ‘confined space.’

Attention to flow through the space and the particular needs of the inhabitants is also emphasized in many of the designs — while this might not be a recipe for universally functional apartment units, it does lead to some of the most impressive optimizations of space. Naoto Mitsumoto and Naoko Hamana’s “nr1977” fits a family of six into 769 square feet. The primary innovation here is the implementation of two rectangular blocks that allow flow both around and above them. The tops of the blocks leave just over one metre of space to the ceiling, allowing room for play areas and desk space for the family’s children, with bed-sized modules as well as storage space below.

Another particularly economical example is Maziar Behrooz Architecture’s “Container Art Studio” is made of two metal shipping containers on a concrete foundation that utilizes the natural slope of the property. While this particular space’s singular purpose leaves it quite spacious, it was specifically designed for affordability, and inspires questions of how much could be done with simple re-purposed modules.

And even the bizarre is functional in these small spaces — SPACESPACE’s “Ground and Above Roof House” features what Gallardo calls a “strange mound” (123) — a boulder-like concrete structure in the middle of the ground floor, which actually houses the bathroom! However, by situating this space down a few steps and covering it with the upholstered mound, seating and storage pockets are also provided on top (as well as a fascinating focal point for the entryway). This house also includes carefully considered window placements, and the mound is meant to collect solar heat.

These designs, as shown in the collection, all have a certain artistic finesse, with furnishings integrated into the concept for unity, and everything carefully displayed for professional photos. But there are takeaways for more everyday spaces as well, whether in designing low-cost apartments or in making the most of existing small spaces. How can we make use of overlooked areas, whether that means building on unusual lots or just finding ways to use vertical and peripheral space? What functions are really needed, and how can a natural flow through a space be accommodated? How can natural light and heat, as well as aesthetic integrations with the environment, be maximized? Micro-architecture is, at its heart, about optimization — and as such, is a fascinating avenue for designing a more sustainable future.

 

References

Gallardo, Yuri Caravaca, ed. Houses & Apartments Under 1000 Square Feet. Buffalo, New   York: Firefly Books, 2013

“Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture.” Wikipedia. October 08, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier’s_Five_Points_of_Architecture.

 

Photos & further info:

Ring

Love House

3 x 9 House

nr1977

Container Art Studio

Ground and Above Roof House

What I’m reading: Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Pond is one of those books I read 20 pages of and then had to stop myself from immediately trying to write something just like it. The voice, circuitous and vivid, sticks in your head.

The book is Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, and while it seems to be categorized as a short story collection, it also reminds me of some poetic novels; there’s one narrator and one central place, anchoring several stories or chapters comprised mostly of stream-of-consciousness observations, often with some inciting event but rarely with any strong external drama or tension. Bennett doesn’t follow any rules of storytelling: there isn’t an overarching plot, nor a real plot to any of the stories, nor any major shift except digging deeper, perhaps, into the narrator’s psychology, and a small sense that change will happen, inevitably and with little agency, towards the end of the book. Stories centre around things as minute as trying to replace oven knobs, or the colour of ink in a fountain pen. Characters are rarely named and there are no consistent or particularly significant character relationships, nor much direct dialogue; the broadest sense of the narrator’s life comes from a phone conversation with her father in one of the last stories, “Over and Done With,” and the suggestion of history and something ongoing is almost jarring in a book so firmly rooted in present thought & sensation.

I’m a sucker for stories without much story, mostly because it justifies me writing things that are about image and language and states of being but not plot. After all, life rarely has much of a plot anyway, and these minutia of everyday life carry a real honest weight if we let them.

The early part of the book alternates between longer stories and short vignettes (including a two-paragraph ode to tomato puree), but in the later third of the book there are more and more long stories and the weight of it all shifts in proportion. What begins as reasonably light-hearted eccentricity takes on a slightly more melancholy cast; the balance of the narration shifts from outward descriptions to a closer sense of the narrator herself, her psyche and the drifting patterns she’s caught up in, the tenuous ways she forms identity. This tension between internal and external reality seems central to the book, and as it goes on you get a sense of the person emerging from the voice; you move from a sense of timeless oddity to a clearer picture of a life.

It’s a book about food & love & dirt; about solitude and anxiety, but in no clichéd or all-consuming sense. With a narrator indifferent to anyone else’s rules, Bennett moves between every kind of odd and uncomfortable and irreverent truth about day-to-day life. It’s a book I’d like to read at least three more times — each story is full of turns of phrase  worth chewing on, flavours and textures worth examining from every angle, and observations that haunt you until you can tease them apart.