Today, the New York Times points our attention to the rise of small architectural structures – something surely any long-term reader of Inhabitat knew about years ago.
In any case, the article claims, there is now a “wave of interest in such small dwellings,” chosen in lieu of, say, a brand new McMansion full of closets you never enter and weird nightmares about sports equipment you bought ten years ago but never used.
“Seldom measuring much more than 500 square feet,” the Times continues, these micro-houses “offer sharp contrasts to the rambling houses that are commonplace as second homes.” For instance, we learn that to “compensate for the lack of interior space,” some clients now “cook, entertain and, for the most part, live outdoors.”
Most importantly, though:
Minimal square footage means reduced maintenance costs, less upkeep and reduced energy consumption. Prefabricated and pre-built models can require little or no site preparation, which means no anxious weekend drives to the country to make sure construction is moving along. Add to this an element of instant gratification (once the planning stage is over, most houses go up in days, even hours, and many are delivered, turn-key, to the site).
Choosing a house starts to resemble buying a car.
“In theory,” we’re told, “this could contribute to an increase in sales of undeveloped land.” But is that really such a good thing? It depends on what form your “undeveloped land” takes. Is it virgin forest?
Or a Home Depot parking lot?
Or your own backyard?
While reading all this, however, I was reminded of an ongoing theme in medieval – for lack of a better word – Japanese poetry, where the poet’s own cloistered 10×10 living space becomes a recurring sign and reference in the poetry itself.
Typically, I can’t find a single example of what I’m talking about – but scouring my old notebooks here, I have found some poems that are so good, and topically relevant, that I thought I’d just type them out anyway.
So: some poems, inspired by small living spaces.
“It’s snowed!” I see,
opening up the shutters
to the light of dawn –
when, from next door, comes the sound
of a neighbor doing the same thing. —Reizei Tamesmasa
Just biding my time
night after long autumn night,
I have watched the moon –
with not a thing else to do
but sit here and grow old. —Nijo Tamesada
In this mountain village
where I’ve given up
all hope of visitors,
how drab life would be
without my loneliness —Saigyo
I remember when I was young
reading alone in the empty hall,
again and again refilling the lamp with oil,
never minding then how long the winter night was —Ryokan
Clear icy water
races straight down the mountain
and into my tub —Issa
Between window screens,
a tiny hand reaches out
to touch the spring rain —Torai
If I can find
nowhere fit to live,
then let me live nowhere –
in this hut of sticks
as flimsy as the world itself. —Saigyo
Unfortunately, when I moved out to LA I didn’t bring along my copies of Flowing Traces and The Karma of Words – so I can’t offer you much more; but each of those books contains at least one essay about the poetry and symbolism of the 10×10 room, and the literary form that “living small” eventually fostered. Of course, if you’ve read one of them, or have some quotations I could use, let me know…
Meanwhile, the New York Times writes, the actual cost of these “tiny houses” depends on what you want. Prices vary according to things like “degrees of finishing, who does the building, types of materials and design options. In general,” we’re advised, “count on spending anywhere from $35 a square foot for a very basic structure to more than $200 a square foot for designer models built with specialized or luxury materials.”
But then it’s yours: you own it. A place to sit and count fireflies and be alone with a window and a floor – until your friends come by and drink all your wine and put Scorn records on till the police show up. Even if you live in the middle of a desert, with a skylight, and 20 acres, and the stars.