car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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Prefabulous Cubed

Ten months ago I wrote about high-end prefabricated homes developed by Marmol Radziner.  Just the other day I found another (literal) architecture tidbit –the micro compact home [m-ch].

Like many designs in minimalist architecture,the [m-ch] hails from Europe.  Developed with techniques adapted from automotive and aviation design,the high-tech little cubes follow the less-is-more school of thought to the bleeding edge,then over it.

Effectively about 8.5 feet cubed,the [m-ch] manages to cram two compact double beds,a dining area for 4-5 people,a shower and toilet,a kitchen with induction burners,microwave,sink,refrigerator/freezer,and storage space,and standard HVAC amenities into the living module.  With a customizable exterior and interior,the [m-ch] runs about $32,000 in base form.

I spent some time living in a converted shipping container in Iraq,and I have to say the [m-ch] appears to be light-years ahead of that living arrangement.  Even with all the space inside an isotainer I don’t think I could have crammed that much stuff into one space.  Not the way KBR laid those containers out,anyway.

Trials of the [m-ch] have already begun in Europe.  Students in Munich have rented the mini homes for $150/month,keeping logs of their experiences and helping designers iron out the bumps in the product.  A few glitches (over-sensitve smoke detector,drainage issues in the bathroom) in such a small place have drastic effects on quality of life issues.  I remember how badly my buddy Vinny’s feet would stink up our isocontainer (not that mine were probably all that pleasant);I’m sure shower water seeping into the sleeping area isn’t amusing,either.

I find extremely utilitarian/efficient design quite interesting,and though I don’t think I’d want to live in such a small space any longer,I can see how attractive these little dwellings would be for student housing or for large seminars.  Maybe even for Olympic Villages.  They can be transported by truck or even helicopter and are installed with a crane.  The warranty is for five years,making them attractive to operations which figure to see significant turnover or fluctuation in size.

I can almost see a miniature neighborhood of [m-ch] units with Dodge Slingshots and Smart Forfours parked in to-scale driveways,students milling from dwelling to dwelling.  Is it part of the solution for affordable,compact,and efficient student housing in America?  I doubt it.  My guess is no American college student willingly will stuff their belongings and themselves into a 8.5-foot cube,even if they had it all to themselves,just as I expect the Smart car sell poorly in the US when introduced in 2008 (which is too bad,because it’s really a great little vehicle).  Still,it is nice to know that there are designers out there attempting to squeeze every bit of use out of every cubic inch available to them,whether that cubic inch is in a micro compact home or a micro compact car.

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