Nanotecture: shrinking structures

  • 2016-03-29
  • The Guardian

A new building comes with every kind of pitfall: planning restrictions, cost, the limitations of the materials, the whims of the client. Or rather, a full-size building does. If you make something small enough, you can be as adventurous as you like. Sheds, bothies and even kennels can be the perfect place for architects and designers to experiment.

This is the thinking behind Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things, a book that collects 300 examples of envelope-pushing smaller structures. Some are permanent, others were temporary installations, some are downright bizarre. All are eye-catching.

“Before I went into publishing I trained as an architect,” says Rebecca Roke, who compiled the book, “and I’ve always been interested in how small-scale things allow you to focus on detail and materiality. When a building doesn’t have to house hundreds of people or make complex functions work, it can have a certain playfulness. The scale isn’t a barrier to creativity, and small actually engenders a chance to be experimental and accessible.”

Her favourite is Martín Azúa’s model for inflatable instant housing (pictured above), a kind of gold cube made from metallised polyester. “One of the themes of the book is how to provide emergency housing for humanitarian situations, or urban homelessness. It’s playful, but it also points at how to solve that very real and ignored problem.”

There are examples of nanotecture all over the world, from Japan to the Lake District. Some are (very) glorified garden sheds, others are more esoteric creations: benches that loop the loop, or portable country retreats. “It’s not necessary to have an enormous holiday home,” says Roke. “It is possible to do more with less. I hope the book is inspirational about what you can do with all kinds of materials. Timber is the most common, but everything from Ikea cubes to plastic pool noodles have been used.”

For one project in the Lake District, the artist Steve Messam made a bridge out of 20,000 sheets of red paper. For Antón García-Abril’s Trufa (meaning truffle), a holiday home in Spain, concrete was poured over hay bales and allowed to set. The resulting shape was dug up and sliced open before a cow called Paulina was introduced to eat the remaining hay over the course of a year.