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Special to The Globe and Mail
The tiny-house movement has been gaining traction ever since U.S.-based architect Sarah Susanka published her bestseller The Not So Big House almost two decades ago. And a growing number of people are rejecting the mortgage trap to live pared-down lives in 100- to 400-square-foot spaces. But in early 2016, the small-minded can go next level, in an off-the-grid, 86-square-foot micro-house.
Slovakian architecture firm Nice Architects Studio is taking pre-orders for its Ecocapsule, “the world’s first truly independent micro-home.” The egg-shaped dwelling for two has a sleeping area, kitchenette, workspace, compostable toilet and shower room. Its spherical form collects rainwater and morning dew, which membrane water filters purify, to make them potable. Solar panels and a silent wind turbine power the micro-house, with a manual water pump for back-up.
“There were always caravans with solar cells and small houses with wind turbines, but we’ve combined the two and added energy-retention capabilities,” says partner-architect Igor Zacek, who co-designed the Ecocapsule with five colleagues. “It’s not rocket science, but nobody did this before us.”
The Ecocapsule could be placed on a rooftop or in a vacant parking lot as a cheaper dwelling for singles in a high-rent urban setting. The company also sees potential in this Sputnik-like model – with its white and minimalist luxury-hotel-room-inspired interior – for everyone from wilderness tourists to scientists working on location to artists seeking a retreat to emergency workers in disaster zones.
“In the case of earthquakes or situations where infrastructure is damaged, the Ecocapsule can be transported quickly to where it’s needed and used as a power station or water-treatment facility,” Zacek says. “Instead of building their living site, recovery workers could have Ecocapsules shipped in and go straight to doing their job.”
The prototype fits in a standard shipping container – for global transportation – and can function in any wilderness setting. By late 2016, an undercarriage option will make it road-ready. The designers also promise customization options in future, for elements such as interior surface, colours and energy systems. Initial pricing for the standard model is still under wraps, although Zacek offers a ball-park figure of €25,000 to €40,000 ($34,800 to $55,700), depending on manufacturing costs.
But at 8 feet, 4 inches tall by 14 feet, 7 inches long and 7 feet, 5 inches wide, does the Ecocapsule make one feel at home or just claustrophobic? “We spent a hell of a time playing with the space and light colours and materials, so people could feel really good inside,” says Zacek, who at over 6 feet made a good guinea pig for testing this aspect out. “Also, when you’re sitting on the bed, five feet in front of you is a window larger than your field of view, so if you position the Ecocapsule somewhere appealing, it creates the sense that you’re outside in nature.”