According to researchers at the Cities Research Institute in Queensland the current tiny house movement originated through housing unaffordability1, gaining advanced popularity in the USA through Facebook around 20132. Since then its popularity has spread across the globe with New Zealand and Australia being in the top five countries.
The tiny house itself is generally under 37 metres squared; can be permanently fixed or have the capacity for mobility; are usually DIY bespoke designs; are affordable; have a strong community focus and for many encompass sustainable design and lifestyle practices3.
These practices have strong links to minimalism and a reduction in the consumption of the building itself – energy, water and construction materials – and consumerism, the things we stuff our dwellings with. The mobile varieties provide owners with the ability to move their homes to more climatically appropriate places as the need requires – a feature that may be increasingly useful as the impacts of climate change take hold. Many who lost their homes in the current spate of fires here in Australia, may have wished for this option…
With solar arrays and water tanks attached to reduce their ecological footprint, even their sizes are significantly reduced to fit the size of the house and the needs of its permanent dwellers. Websites such as Tiny House Build and Tiny Houses Australia provide information on all of the ins and outs for building a tiny home and workshops such as the Tiny House Workshop at the Bower in Sydney promotes building using reused materials and products. There is a Tiny Homes Carnival, a television program Tiny House Nation and a number of documentary movies all there to help the tiny house dweller and builder from interior design to manual construction and materials selection.
For those not as eager to build their own from scratch there is an increasing number of prefab designs coming onto the market, that also espouse ecological sustainability such as Wagonhaus in Tasmania and Designer Eco Tiny Homes in NSW. Many of these designs are being seen as eco alternatives for the Airbnb market, which perhaps defeats their original intention.
Tiny homes such as the endearingly named The Castle researched and designed by Architecture and Design students and staff at UTAS for more than a decade, have been used for social and ecological goodness. Designed to improve the lives of youth at risk, they provide ecologically sustainable, safe and comfortable places to reside. Built by Studentworks for the youth support organisation Youth Futures.
Tiny homes are certainly not for everyone but are providing an opening for those unable to access the current housing market and/or for those wishing to significantly reduced their ecological footprint through an increased minimalistic lifestyle. However, the lessons learned from these petite dwellings can also influence the design of larger homes, rethinking our current needs for space to live and the stuff we consume to place in them.
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1 Heather Shearer & Paul Burton (2019) Towards a Typology of Tiny Houses, Housing, Theory and Society, 36:3, 298-318, DOI: 10.1080/14036096.2018.1487879
3 Heather Shearer & Paul Burton (2019)