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Thoughts on tiny houses

It’s impossible to escape the fact that tiny houses are cute. Little roofs, little windows—even the two-word term is diminutive. “Tiny houses” instantly brings to mind the miniature domesticity of childhood dollhouses, but now the architecture captures adult sagas played out on a small scale.

Tiny distills meaning, just as a limited footprint distills living down to the essentials—from a Miesian maxim to a less-is-more lifestyle. Because of their size, there’s a temptation to engender the trend. Does it fall, like much small art and handicraft, into the realm of women’s work or, when they make use of contemporary design ideals and fabrication techniques, represent a techno-Walden? Magazines such as Dwell and ReadyMade regularly feature small spaces, but often it’s their innovations and efficiencies on display, not the cuteness.

Essentially, these homes have an uncanny capacity to capture our grown-up hopes and fears. (As I write this, the secluded site where the Unabomber had his 10-by-12-foot cabin is for sale, tiny house not included.) For some, a 100-, 200- or 500-square foot residence offers a room of one’s own, a life in the woods or, when placed on a trailer, freedom. And for others, they are the economic consequence of the downsizing of the American dream, an answer to heightening climate change or responsible crisis housing. For architects and designers, the tiny house offers a holistic opportunity to experiment with the singular object. Indeed, tiny houses fulfill the DIY impetus to make and build (even if it is a backyard mother-in-law), but their meaning is larger than their size.

Mimi Zeiger founded loud paper, an architecture zine and now blog, in 1997. A Brooklyn-based freelancer, she writes on art, architecture and design for various publications including The New York Times, Dwell, ReadyMade and Architect, where she is a contributing editor. Zeiger is the author of Tiny Houses (Rizzoli, 2009), and her latest book, Micro Green, is due out in April 2011.

Photograph by Tammy Strobel. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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