Mar 152015
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microdwelling exhibit

Microdwelling Exhibit 2015 in Phoenix offers look into tiny house movement and reflections on how much space one needs

This past summer my husband and I downsized. We sold, donated or discarded more stuff than we now own. Even at that, we still have more space and stuff than we need. I know we could manage in a smaller space than we downsized to, but I’m not sure how well we’d manage with the small spaces advocated by the tiny house movement. Microdwelling 2015, an exhibition of owner-built and human-inhabited micro-dwellings at the Shemer Art Center and Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, provided an interesting look into small house living and alternative construction techniques.

The exhibit also offered food for thought about what kind of space we need. Similar events ran about the same time the previous year and two years prior to that.

Microdwelling BoxOffice

The BoxOffice offers flexible space with moving walls and furniture


Microdwelling Exhibit Cube

The Permutative Light Cube was composed of cubes of half-cinder block and special plastic. The creator said that ideally the cubes would be cemented together, but for this show they were held together by industrial strength tape inside a skeleton frame of 2 x 4’s with 4 x 4 corner posts.

The movement to small spaces is driven by economic, environmental and lifestyle concerns. In densely populated areas, there is less living space available. Small, energy-efficient homes mean less income spent on housing. For some, small spaces are all about reducing one’s environmental footprint, creating spaces that foster sustainable living for families across the world. I know from my experience with downsizing the sense of freedom gained from getting rid of stuff one doesn’t need. A smaller space and simpler lifestyle may mean more money and time to pursue other interests.

microdwelling exhibit cube patio

Permutative Cube patio

Although some organizations within the movement to small spaces talk about space in the 100 to 400 square feet range, Microdwelling Exhibit allowed more space than that. All structures were required to be 600 square feet or less, self-contained, modular and portable. The exhibit highlighted the positive environmental benefits of conscientious material selection and elimination of waste.

Geeza Pyramid

Geeza Pyramid

One of the most fascinating exhibits was the Geeza Pyramid. The structure was about 500 square feet, included covered patio areas. The pyramid shape eliminates need for walls and roofs, leaving you with Woofs. The woofs can be made of polycarbonate, metal, wood shingles or canvas. The creator likes polycarbonate because of its lightness, toughness and translucence. Partially attached by magnets, some of the panels opened upwards and became roofs for attached patio areas. Insulated panels could be pushed into the panes of the panels to block light and adjust temperature. With its high pointed roof and ability to open into attached patio area, it felt quite spacious.

Geeza Pyramid ceiling

Geeza Pyramid ceiling



Interior and exterior of Maushaus, a tiny house on wheels designed by Arizona State University graduate students. Unlike many of the other exhibits erected specially for the exhibit, this house has been used and lived in. I could picture myself living here, but the narrow steps to the sleeping loft might be a problem.

A couple of the exhibits featured loft sleeping areas that raised the question of how well these spaces work for those with disabilities, a question posed by another visitor to the owner of the Permutative Cube, one of the units with a sleeping loft. Although she didn’t get into specifics while I was listening, she said she had experience working with disabilities and the spaces could be adapted. 

microdwelling teahouse

The Teahouse was designed for luxurious outdoor living.

One exhibits showcased the use of clean-burning solar-powered hydrogen energy. At another exhibit showcasing foam construction, the owner claimed foam construction resulted in a 75% savings in energy costs. 

microdwelling exhibit split rooms

This exhibit featured two units, one with living space, the other with kitchen and bathroom facilities, separated by a common patio.

Many of the exhibits were designed to interact with nature, making use of indoor and outdoor space. This is a lovely concept, but I couldn’t help thinking it would not be viable in my home province of Manitoba. It might work in the summer, but not in the winter, when temperatures are well below freezing, often -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) and lower. Turning to the Internet, I found sites offering advice on how to build tiny homes for cold climates. Those homes would look quite different than the ones I saw at Microdwelling 2015.

What do you think of the tiny house movement? Have you seen a tiny house exhibition? How small could you go with your living space?

Geeza Pyramid

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  52 Responses to “Microdwelling Exhibit: How Little Space Do You Need?”

  1. This was an amazing tour of micro dwellings. I, too, have been downsizing as the years go by. Every place I move, I find myself in a smaller space and toting fewer things with me. But to be honest, I don’t think I could do this! While I am not exactly claustrophobic, I do get uncomfortable in small small spaces if I am in them for too long. So this would be off my list! But I am aware that in over populated cities, these are becoming more common.

    • Jacquie, it was certainly an interesting exhibit. I’ve always been fascinated with small spaces, You need to be creative and organized to make best use of them and they force you to consider what in the way of things is absolutely most important to you. But I also don’t think I could go this small.

  2. Hi Donna,

    We live is 1400 sq. ft. in Manitoba for 2/3 of the year and spend 1/3 of the year in the winter in a 400 sq. ft. “Park Model” with a screened in patio. For those who don’t know, a “Park Model” is one bedroom mobile home (not an RV). We manage well in this much smaller space in the winter, but then we do not have all of our belongings here. What makes it work is that we are outside a lot during the day when the weather is good.

    When the weather is not good, like it has been this past winter, we do start to feel closed in. The other times when it would be nice to have more space is when we would like to have out-of-town guests stay with us and when we want to entertain a larger group. Our inherited hide-a-bed is not comfortable and besides there is no privacy for anyone when guests are staying in the livingroom.

    Though quite comfortable in our smaller winter space, I am always happy to have my larger space back in Manitoba.

    • Eva, I agree these small spaces work much better when one can expand into the outdoors. While I don’t need massive amounts of space, I think I need more than offered by these units. Privacy is a whole other issue!

  3. What a great article and pictures on micro dwellings. They are so cute and little. Everytime I see them I want one. How much space do we really need anyway? Lol. Until I had to live in one. Then I’m sure I’d change my tune.

  4. These living spaces are tiny. The photographs are amazing.

    I believe in living clutter free. I like to see my surfaces and floor free from clutter. Sometimes the more space you have, the more you buy things.

  5. Microdwellings are becoming really popular in cities all over the world. Better a small space than ending up in the suburbs. If it wasn’t for the limitied space on Manhattan and similar areas of other cities in the world nobody would opt for minute dwellings like that:-)

    • Catarina, dense populated areas are certainly a major contributing factor to the tiny house movement. There are also environmental motives, going greener and reducing our footprint.

  6. Really fascinating Donna. I used to live in a house three times the size of my current home and after my divorce I moved to a smaller place assuming it would be temporary. Then I realized I actually liked having a smaller living space, but I should clarify that I live alone (except for my dog) and my home is custom built so even though it’s just a little over 600 sq ft the interior design makes it feel much larger, especially with the wrap around deck. I do think this is about as small as I’m prepared to go though, as nice as some of the homes in your photos look I think I feel a little claustrophobic just looking at them.

    • Marquita, I doubt I could go even as small as 600 square feet, but I don’t live alone. The wraparound deck likely makes a big difference giving you additional living space outdoors.

  7. What an intriguing exhibition! Is it temporary? You really have to get along with the people with whom you share small spaces:-)

    • Irene, it was a temporary exhibit, which ran for about a month. I’m not sure it ran last year, but it did the two years before that so I cannot say whether it is planned for next winter too. Your comment about getting along reminds me of a saying my husband is fond of saying, “birds in a nest must agree.”

  8. I find these tiny houses totally fascinating. There was a documentary movie made a little while ago called “Tiny” that followed the building of one such house. I think it was a CBC documentary.

  9. Excellent post. as I happened to turn the TV on the other day and saw a doco on this. We have also downsized but also have way too much stuff. I think that it is a great idea for material possessions where most of us have far too many, but I still think that it wouldn’t be enough space to get away from one another; much as I adore Gordon

    • Paula, I understand what you’re saying about no space to get away. There were a couple of the units I thought that maybe, possibly I might be able to live in, but by myself, not sure how easily 2 or more would manage.

  10. I am a big, big fan of tiny houses. Like you, though, I’d be concerned about the sleeping loft situation. I’m frequently up in the night, so a ladder or steep stairway would not be my preference. There are plenty of options though that don’t require a convertible sleeping arrangement. If I can get a real bed in one of these, all on one level, I’m there after we finish wandering.

    • Betsy, I too get up in the night and I am not the most coordinated at the best of times. I saw trouble in those narrow steps. I too would not want a convertible sleeping arrangement.

  11. I am trying to downsize, but I have to admit…I’m a complete American. I like my space! I could live in a very small area, and plan to in the not-too-distant future, but I’m not sure for how long. I would love to see an exhibit!

    • Corinne, I’m not sure I could go this small, but I think I could go smaller than I have in downsizing. We kept more than we absolutely needed because knew we had the space for it in what we downsized too. I think (although I’m not sure) if I had to further downsize, it would be an easier task.

  12. Small is one thing, ‘elevator’ or ‘airplane’ size is another. This would not be my lifestyle choice although we have also been caught up in the discard and downsize mode in recent months. Great post, Donna.

    • Jackie and Joel, I like the terms elevator or airplane size. Having been caught up in the discard and downsize mode, I’m sure you appreciate what it would take to go to a small space. I don’t think it is for me either. (but I’ve also learned to never say never.)

  13. Hi Donna: Fascinating post and pics. I am going to forward your link to my friend Wendy, as she has been thinking of downsizing to a Tiny House. I’d not previously heard the term “microdwelling,” but it certainly applies! Definitely not for me.

  14. What an interesting exhibit! But I like my stuff. I might consider replacing my storage shed with one of these gems and renting it out or using it for guests or for an escape from the “big” house.

    • Carole, I think a tiny house would make a wonderful guest house, whether you rent it out or not. While I don’t think I could live in a place this small long-term I would certainly consider renting it for a vacation period.

  15. What an amazing exhibit you found! I am jealous…I would have wanted to go with you. But I can relate to micro-dwelling. Bill and I have been living in our RV since 2009. And it is just about 350 square feet! When we met we had already down-sized to an apartment each and when we married we down-sized further to an RV!!! We have very little to clean, and we have learned how to dispose of something old when we buy something new. We have also learned to keep electronic files of a lot of things. But I am ready to go back to at least 1,200 square feet!!!

    • Carol, you’ve managed to live in a small space for a long time, so I can understand wanting to go back to a larger space. One of the things that occurred to me when thinking about the small space was that in order to make it work, you’d have to get rid of something if you bought something new.

  16. I’m fascinated by tiny houses, mostly because I can’t imagine downsizing enough to fit into one. But I love the idea, and I love seeing the ingenious ways designers solve their inherent problems. I get my tiny house fix when we go camping in our trailer. 🙂

    • Meredith, like you I am fascinated with tiny house, but not sure I could downsize that much. You’re right about the ingenious ways designers solve their problems. I think there are ways we could borrow some of those ideas to make use of the space we do have.

  17. The small house movement has long since intrigued us especially since our downsizing has been done in several steps over the years. At this time all of our current possessions can be carried with us as we travel so, when we decide to settle in one place again, a small space in an interesting city might indeed be a practical solution. Great post, Donna!

    • Anita, after carrying all your possessions with you as you travel, I expect you could transition to a tiny house very well if you choose to settle down in one spot.

  18. These are very interesting to us since we have adapted quite well to the space of a motorhome (not one of the big ones). It would seem strange though not to be able to move from place to place. That makes the RV seem much bigger.

    • It seems a little odd that moving from place to place actually makes the RV seem bigger, but I can understand it. I can more easily envision myself in a very small space if we were travelling from place to place in it.

  19. I am so pleased to see this! I have heard a bit about the micro dwelling movement and I could definitely seeing myself living in a tiny home. I love that they are all “self-contained, modular and portable” – what a great concept. Maybe one day I will buy a little place to live in and move it from place to place.

  20. A group of these around a central courtyard would be great – Each for different purposes and would mean if there were two of you you wouldn’t have to occupy the same small space at the same time LOL

    • Linda, I like the idea of a group of tiny houses around a central courtyard. I agree it would be an easier way to coexist with other people in these small spaces. Although a large number of buildings with only a few inhabitants would run counter to the goals of the tiny house movement.

  21. This is a very interesting post and the photos are great.
    We currently live in a mobile home of 8 square metres (~86 square feet) and it’s fine. I’m not sure I could do it if we were staying in one place though.
    However, we did live in a 65 square metre (~700 square feet) studio for about 5 years. This included extensive decks. It was a very comfortable space but we put a lot of thought into the design of it.

    • Yasha, I think one of the appeals of the tiny houses is the thought that needs to go into the design to make the space work for you. It then becomes very personal. Extensive decks and being able to expand living space into the outdoors where there are no walls closing in on you would certainly help one feel less claustrophobic.

  22. The apartment I lived in about 5 years ago was 550 square feet. When empty it seemed like a really small space, but once I put furniture in, it made it seem larger. When I was in my early 20s in NYC I lived with 2 other girls in a studio apartment. That was a test of small space. There was a point while living there that I slept curled around a clothing rack because that was the only available space. I would love to see a story about a family living in one of these micro-spaces. I’ve never heard of children being raised in these tiny homes. I wonder if micro-dwellings are mostly catering to single millennials and empty nesters?

    • Erica, it’s hard to imagine raising children in these tiny houses, especially when they get into their teens. It might be easier when they are younger, but I still think it would be a challenge.

  23. Donna,
    I love this. You find the most interesting places to visit. I don’t know if my make-up would fit in one of those spaces. But there’s something about not having so much stuff that seems to open up your and allow your life to expand. Are these dwellings safe? It looks as if a strong wind came along you’d be wearing your home.

    • You raise a good question about safety. I don’t know the answer, but I know a lot of experimentation and thought has gone into many of the tiny house dwellings. I suspect the answer varies, depending on the type of construction and the location. Given the temporary nature of this exhibit (a one month period), I imagine a number of things that might be done to secure a structure long-term weren’t done.

  24. Oh I love this! I really want to own a tiny home some day so I would definitely visit an exhibit like this.

  25. This post appeals to my sensibilities so much. The home I’ve spent years in is 1200 square feet which is small by most American standards. Yet, I want to eventually get down to a place this is 400 square feet or less and preferably on wheels. I’ve been looking into it more and more and know I can make it happen someday. I follow a few blogs on the tiny house movement and watch various TV shows on topic when I can. It just makes sense to me, though it will be a challenge to eventually whittle my possessions down even more.

  26. Wow…I simply love this concept…

    With the rapid population expansion, these houses will be soon find wide acceptance in the coming decade or so..

    I have never heard about such innovative exhibitions…Thanks for this post.

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