How Designing a Micro Home Made a Powerful Impact on My Design Philosophy.
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Written by Rohisha Maharjan
Nooks and crannies (noun) - every part of a place
Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) (noun) - timber material as described in the text
prefab - short for prefabricated (adjective) - manufactured in sections to enable quick or easy assembly on site.
design thinking (noun) - a design philosophy which provides a solution-based approach to solving problems.
to make the most of something - to use or enjoy something as much as possible
biophilic design - is a design concept to increase human connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions.
The Basic House is a project submitted for the Microhome 2020 architecture competition, a small-scale architecture appreciation movement by Bee breeders. The movement encourages innovative thinking, efficient design and sustainable small-scale architecture that can change how we see the world of design and construction.
I participated in the 2020 competition and designed the tiny house for a young couple who value their connection to the environment and want to live in a sustainably designed tiny house. The requirements for the project included: a total floor area of 25 sqm as well as the inclusion of sleeping, cooking, socialising and utility areas.
The brief stated that it had to be comfortable while promoting sustainable living for a young couple. The key area to focus on was the tiny house's space layout, which was no more than 25 sqm of floor space. Playing with space and designing an efficient layout by utilising all the nooks and crannies of the house was my favourite part of the project. Among all the potential drawings, the ‘C’ layout, dividing the private and public areas with the entryway, seemed the most appropriate and aesthetically pleasing. This also created space for the couple to have their own secluded room when a guest stays over.
The tiny house design is inspired by minimalism, reflected in the choice of materials. The interior is designed with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), and the exterior is clad with lightweight prefab concrete sheets. CLT is lightweight and easy to assemble and has a much lower carbon footprint. It also reduces the impact on health and safety since it is much cleaner and has minimal wastage on site.
When it comes to tiny houses, various design elements need to be thoroughly considered, such as: utilising space, making the most of storage, circulation, natural lighting, and separation of spaces. The design thinking and the process mostly involved answering questions to create a solution for these elements. For example, cutting the entryway area was the answer to creating that extra floor for the bathroom shower. This design decision then led to the creation of public/ private space. Since the entryway was tiny, the glass ceiling and the wide glass window were included to make it feel open. This then led to becoming a great biophilic design strategy. It is believed that humans are intuitively drawn towards the natural environment, so the biophilic design creates opportunities for human and nature connection and enhanced well-being of mind and body.
The process was a flow of one design decision leading to another choice and creating a chain of dynamic designs that fit perfectly in the concept. The competition allowed full creative design, keeping in mind only a few essential restrictions. Working on this project was a valuable experience that led me to learn more about sustainability and how I might incorporate it into my future designs. It also led me to learn more about new construction materials, technologies, structural and functional framework and how everything is put together when building a home.
I chose CLT because it is very flexible in use and has a reduced environmental impact. Learning about this very material excited me more about the project, and it’s potential.
The Basic House floor plan was designed to utilise space to create a comfortable and multifunctional tiny house that requires minimal effort to convert one space into another as required. The living room is the multifunctional room used as a guest room and a dining room.
The use of glass on the ceiling and the ceiling to floor on the entryway creates the feeling of being welcomed by nature from inside the house. This also makes the space feel larger even though it's only 1x1.5m. This separates the two blocks, private and public space. The public block has an effortless circulation from the kitchen to the living to the bathroom. The raised kitchen gives ample storage space for the batteries and inverters and a pull-out mattress that fits right with the sofa to make it into a comfortable double bed for the guests.
CLT is a prefabricated and engineered wood panel which is quick to install and saves a significant amount of time at the construction site. Since the material is pre-cut on the warehouse, it also reduces wastage on the site. The panels are made by stacking layers of timber 3 to 7, in alternate directions with a strong adhesive and varied depending on the desired thickness. The structure needs to be very thoroughly planned to design with CLT, and any changes needed must be undertaken before cutting the panels. CLT was the perfect material for this project for its structural ability and the elegant aesthetics it provided to the interiors. It's becoming a popular choice in the construction industry because of its durability and versatility, and I'm excited by the possibilities of using it in future projects.
All the interior elements such as the kitchen cabinets, bed, sofa, shelves and even the floating bed on the high ceiling window are made with pre-cut CLT. Doing this doesn’t just save time, but it's also cost-effective and creates a minimal colour and material palette.
Storage in tiny houses is essential, and it is crucial to think about all the options to create enough space for hidden storage and reduce clutter. The Basic House provides storage with shelves made from CLT on the high ceiling, creating a sense of space and capturing abundant natural light. Therefore, the storage itself doesn’t feel cramped.
Off-grid tiny houses are self-sustaining and do not rely on outsourcing energy or water supply. The Basic House is fully electric and relies on renewable energy from the solar panels. The high-pitched ceiling and large windows capture natural light reducing energy use during the daytime. These windows also create a biophilic design which promotes more connection to the outside world.
In the age of climate change, it is crucial to think about water usage and its availability and incorporate this issue in our designs as designers that focus not just collecting and utilising it wisely. In the Basic House, the rainwater is collected from the roof through the hidden gutters and the box gutter to a stainless-steel water tank. This water is pumped via a water pump to the bathroom and the kitchen.
Since the tiny house is off-grid, it uses waterless composting toilet that doesn’t need to be connected to any water pipes or sewer system.
HOW THIS PROJECT INSPIRED ME?
"I have always been a person who tries to do as much as I can to manage my household waste, reduce plastic use and be mindful about the products I’m consuming. However, I never knew the scope of possibilities of how much I can contribute to the cause through my profession and my work. The construction industry is the second largest industry in the world that creates waste. As designers and architects, we are responsible for reflecting on using our platform to make changes on a larger scale.
As I dived deeper into my research, which initially started just as a project that I wanted to do to occupy me during the pandemic, it turned out to become the drive that would change the way I processed design and the course of the path I want to take in my career. I have learned so much more about the wide spectrum of sustainability, new technologies and the work that many professionals are actively doing to be a part of the sustainability movement from local architects to large companies' who believe every individual can contribute in their own way. I am fortunate to be a part of the industry that plays a vital role in the make or break of the environment and has tremendous potential in not only making it better but also redeeming the damage previously done."
I am a Graduate Interior Designer from Geelong, Australia, a work in progress advocate for what sustainability means in design. I am originally from Nepal, the land of temples, culture, diversity and Mt. Everest. Having lived most of my life in Patan, Nepal, I have been exposed to the vernacular architecture of great palaces and temples, which was a huge contrast to the residential architecture, which was simple concrete structures. I was born when traditional houses were being replaced by modern concrete houses for their stability rather than their beauty.
Moving to Australia was a huge culture shock for me, but very eye-opening in terms of design and architecture. Learning how design is celebrated in the residential and commercial sectors was fascinating to me. I was drawn to a designer's power to create spaces that play so flawlessly with aesthetics and sustainability as it wasn't something I had a lot of exposure to.
I aim to use my design skills and my passion for sustainability in design and construction in working on clever projects, reduce carbon footprint, and make a huge difference in the environment in both the residential and commercial sectors. In the future, I want to implement what I have learnt in Australia and take this back to my home in Nepal.
You'll find more information about Rohisha's design and portfolio on her personal website. Thanks for your valuable contribution to our growing blog and community.