These 16 Tiny Buildings Prove Less Is More

The forthcoming book Nanotecture is an ode to spatial efficiency.


In today’s climate of scarcity, doing more with less just makes sense. By some estimates, the built environment accounts for nearly 40% of CO2 emissions in the U.S. Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things, a forthcoming book from Phaidon, celebrates small designs that pack a big punch.

Animal Wall by Gitta Gschwendtner

“Such modestly sized works, which are often made from a simple material palette, were an inspiration during my architectural education, capturing my imagination for their complexity and materiality, as well as their ability to make an impact far greater than might be expected from their actual size,” author Rebecca Roke writes in the book’s introduction.

Emergency shelters are one of the more obvious use cases for compact architecture. Take Carter Williamson’s prefabricated, flat-packed disaster relief structure, which can be assembled in as few as four hours and is built on piers that can be adjusted for uneven terrain. The steel-frame structure can house up to 10 people and has photovoltaic cells, rainwater tanks, and a solar hot-water system.

Winfried Baumann’s Instant Housing project can be mounted on a bicycle and comes with emergency supplies like a first-aid kit and a torch for light. A retractable platform turns into a bed and is covered by a nylon tent. Once a user is done sleeping on it, he or she can fold everything back up.

Concert Hall by Didzis Jaunzems Architecture

Some of the most inventive designs featured in Nanotecture are decidedly less pragmatic, which makes sense; when you’re designing at a small scale, there’s a lot more room to experiment. Take Didzis Jaunzems Architecture’s idea for a concert hall in Latvia. Built on a meadow, the structure designed for 20 chamber musicians rests on just four points to leave as little impact as possible on the land. The walls are made from textile louvers that open to allow the music to flood the immediate surroundings and close to keep it contained. Other projects include an aluminum chicken coop in the Hamptons and a 165-foot-long “Animal Wall” constructed as an urban habitat for flying creatures like birds and bats.

The throughline? Smallness forces architects and designers to edit and hone their ideas with laser focus. It’s the ultimate design challenge. Perhaps we’d be better off if all buildings were approached this way, no matter what their size. See more in our slide show above.

All Photos: courtesy Phaidon

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.