If you’ve ever wondered whether small house living has a place in university life, students in Germany say, yes! Since 2005, the Technical University of Munich has hosted a student “village” of Micro-Compact Homes (otherwise known as m-ch). Each term, six students and professor/architect Richard Holden populate the tiny village of transportable prefabricated dwellings.
The m-ch is a 2.66 meter cube with a timber frame and aluminum external cladding. It contains two compact double beds, a dining/living space for five people, a shower/toilet cubicle, a flat screen television, storage for bedding and cleaning supplies, and a kitchen complete with sink, refrigerator, freezer, double cooking hobs, waste compartments, storage drawers, and double level work surfaces. The m-ch is also fitted with electrical plugs, internet links, a smoke/gas detector, and thermostat-controlled heat, air conditioning, and water heating. A carbon neutral “low e-home” is available too—this model incorporates solar panels, a wind turbine, reserve batteries, and LED lighting.
Some joke that the m-ch gives the phrase “living in a box” too literal a meaning, but students staying in them have thus far given positive reviews. One student loved her m-ch so much she extended her semester-long stay to two and a half years. Another student agrees, “It’s better quality living. I have my own kitchen, I can hear the birds singing, and I can sit out. It’s sociable—I have barbeques with my neighbors.” Of course, says this student, “you have to be neat, tidy, pretty organized – and open to new experiences,” but it’s hard to argue that this is a bad thing. The most serious complaint is that the tiny toilet/shower cubicle is simply too cramped. One visitor (not a student) says that you can take a shower only by sitting on the toilet and that steam from the “shoilet” frequently sets off the gas-detector.
All in all, however, this nifty little living cube is a fascinating architectural accomplishment. Each nook and cranny is carefully planned out, and mirrors and lighting are used to create a feeling of spaciousness. According to Holden’s design team, the m-ch uses “techniques for high quality compact ‘living’ spaces deployed in aircraft, yachts, cars, and micro apartments.” Aesthetically, it takes after “the classic scale and order of a Japanese tea-house.” And lest you think the colors are cold, all interior surfaces are warm to the touch.
Price constraints aside, then, college students might be Holden’s ideal clientele. According to Holden, the m-ch isn’t suitable as a permanent home, “but for the short term, they’re absolutely brilliant.” They might teach us a better attitude towards stuff too; as Holden says, “micro-compact living means you relax about your possessions.” For now, the student village in Munich is only a test project, but rumor has it a new village of 16 micro-compact homes is planned for Vienna, Austria. Stay tuned—it is hard to imagine that micro-compact homes will ever replace dormitories completely, but in crowded and expensive urban settings, prefab micro-dwellings like the m-ch might open up a small door to a wide world of housing alternatives.
For more information on Richard Holden’s m-ch: Mirco-Compact Home