9 Of The World’s Most Inventive Tiny Buildings

In architecture, bigger isn’t always better. See some of the world’s coolest small buildings here, from a hut on sleds to a walk-in fireplace.

Most people tend to describe their dream houses as sprawling and palatial–but maybe that’s because they haven’t yet seen the gorgeous and inventive nooks featured in Small Architecture Now!. The structures shown here push the potential of the square foot to its limits, revealing that some of the world’s most beautifully designed spaces are also the smallest ones. Indeed, many of today’s top architects, from Frank Gehry to Tadao Ando, started their careers designing very small homes, as author Philip Jodidio points out. The tiny dwellings in this book give hope to those of us living in urban shoeboxes–as 70% of the world’s population will be urban by 2050, urban architects can’t afford to waste an inch of space. From a hut on sleds to a walk-in fireplace for kindergarteners, here are 10 structures that prove that when it comes to architecture, bigger is not always better.


Fireplace for Children, Trondheim, Norway, by Haugen/Zohar Arkitekter

Designed for Trondheim kindergartners (or hobbits, by the looks of it), this Hershey’s Kiss-shaped fireplace is made from repurposed scrap wood. During Norway’s frigid winter months, schoolchildren learn while sitting around its hearth (we are jealous of them). Slits in the façade make the hut glow magically at night. Haugan/Zohar Arkitekter modeled the simple 322 square foot structure after traditional Norwegian huts, layering 80 tapered circles made of 28 pieces of pine each and adding a round sliding door and chimney.

Terunobu Fujimori, Beetle’s House, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The miniscule Beetle’s House–just 43 square feet–was inspired by traditional Japanese teahouses. “In the architectural history of the world, the Japanese teahouse is the one and only example of small building acknowledged as a building type,” architect Terunobu Fujimori, who submitted the design to a 2011 small architecture exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum London, says. “For adults, first-class Japanese architects made very small, independent buildings. Given this history, I made a teahouse for drinking tea in the United Kingdom.” The Tim Burton-esque dwelling stands on spindly legs like an insect and sprouts two antennae-like trees from its roof. Inspired by black tea, it’s finished both inside and out with black charcoal.

The Portal of Awareness, Rojkind Arquitectos, Mexico City

It might sound like a Harry Potter fan fiction invention, but the Portal of Awareness is actually an installation made of 1,500 metal coffee mugs. Commissioned by Nescafe, seven artists worked with architect Michael Rojkind to create a structure of rebar woven in a pattern that created 1,497 nodes from which the mugs could hang. “The final shape of the portal, along with the different colors of the mugs selected, reinforces the sense of movement of the piece,” Rojkind says. “Steel planters anchor the structure and allow for the vines to grow in between the rebar, with the idea that in time they will cover the entire structure in green foliage on the outside, while the inside displays the mugs’ chromatics.”


Crosson Clarke Carnachan, Hut on Sleds, Whangapoua, New Zealand

The 430-square-foot hut on sleds lives on the white sand beach of New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula. Since it’s on a coastal erosion zone, the structure has to be removable–hence, the base of two wooden sleds, which let the two-story hut slide across the beach and onto a barge fairly easily. A triple-decker bunk bed for kids and two sleeping zones mean that this little beach shack can comfortably accommodate a family of five.

House 77, by José Cadilhe, Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal

This gem of an urban dwelling was built in 2009 by Jose Cadilhe, who has worked with Zaha Hadid architects in London. The stainless steel-paneled façade features folding metal shutters and whimsical cutouts of “siglas poveiras,” a “proto-writing” system of communication used in Portugal, often to mark personal belongings or fishing equipment, and passed down between generations. “In this way, the house, in the very center of Bairro Norte, shares some of the city’s memories and references with the population and revitalizes a legacy that has been progressively forgotten and abandoned,” Cadilhe writes. “Quietly, the house confesses its pride in the city.” The cutouts bring in daylight to the clean, modernist interiors without sacrificing privacy.

The Delta Shelter, by Olson Kundig, Mazama, Washington

Because its site floods seasonally, the 1000-square-foot Delta Shelter had to be raised up on stilts, giving it an exotic look and impressive views from the upper windows. Inside, a giant hand-cranked wheel opens the four sliding shutters, providing this delicate-looking structure with extra protection from blustery winds. “When in use, the Delta Shelter provides unparalleled views of the majestic landscape of rural Washington; when it is closed up, the cabin stands like a sentry in the aspen forest,” architect Olson Kundig says.


Home-for-All, by Toyo Ito, in Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan

The Home-for-All was intended as a refuge for those hit by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. It was built on the Sanriku Coast in Rikuzentakata, which was 70% destroyed by the earthquake. In collaboration with Sou Foujimoto, Kumiko Ino, and Akihisa Hirata, architect Toyo Ito aimed to create a place where people could “gain peace of mind and nurture their energy for the city’s reconstruction.” The 32-foot-tall structure is made largely of Japanese cedar, and spirals upward, adorned with trunk-like turrets of wood.

Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort, by Jorge Gracia, Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada, Mexico

Each of the 20 rooms in this “design hotel,” as the architects call it, is a 215-square-foot hut on stilts, located in the dreamy mountains of wine-producing region Baja, California.

Riverside House Suginami, by Kota Mizuishi, Tokyo, Japan

This tiny house was built for a couple and their daughter in an awkward triangular lot between a river and a road. Inside, a sloping loft area packs two rooms into one. Mizuishi uses creative angles and light to build a house that’s like a clown car: it seems to fit an impossible amount of furniture and comfort into what’s technically a small space.


Small Architecture Now! is available here for $59.99.