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LOCATION  Worldwide

PROGRAMME  Microhouse

AREA  270 sqft, 25 sqm

YEAR  2020

TEAM  STUDIO YUME, pliarch, Whitby Wood Engineers

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by circa 1.5 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by human-made emissions. Scientists predict global temperatures will continue to rise and extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, blizzards and rainstorms will occur more often and with greater intensity.

With the planet's climate warming, our homes will need to respond to these changing conditions as will our behaviour in relation to how we grow food/harvest and consume water and energy. When looking for solutions, human-designed responses tend to exacerbate emissions by depleting finite materials and energy supplies. Natural processes on the other hand rely on unique geometry and material properties which allow them to respond sustainably and in solidarity with all life on earth. Learning from nature has been fundamental in our approach to the microhouse. 

The aim has been to draw inspiration from its forms, processes and ecosystems to create a more responsive and self-sufficient design. Two plants in particular have inspired us due to their capacity to acclimate to changes in environmental conditions - cacti and algae. 


Cacti owe their success to survive in harsh hot climates to their structural features. They have numerous anatomical adaptations for directing, absorbing and storing water, limiting damage from the hot sun and saving energy.  Their pleated surface (ribs) protects the plant from the harmful effects of the sun by shading the cactus against the scorching rays. The alternating planes of light and shade also help produce rising and falling air currents improving heat radiation. And whilst it rarely rains in the desert (and when it does it is in short bursts) cacti need to collect water quickly and efficiently before the moisture evaporates away in the dry air. The pleats direct water straight to the ground where a shallow root system allows cacti to absorb as much water as possible in a short period of time.

Microalgae are photosynthetic organisms that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, different light intensities and environmental conditions. They can grow in any climate, as long as there is enough sunlight, meaning it can even thrive in areas that are inefficient for other agriculture. Microalgae have a simple cell structure and their growth requires light, carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients. When cultivated in controlled conditions such as bioreactors, microalgae use photosynthesis to generate biomass from light, absorb CO2, recycle wastewater, and release O2. and as many types of algae are nutritionally such complete foods their yields outperform most plant crops. The cell density inside the bioreactors depends on available light and the harvesting regime. When there is more daylight available, more algae grow - which can provide shading.

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The construction industry is responsible for nearly 40% of all carbon emissions in the world and with finite materials becoming scarcer due to an ever increasing demand we have to rethink our approach not only in terms of construction methods, but also operations of the building once it’s in use. Traditional construction methods are material- and energy-intensive. In order to reduce cost and  other side effects such as noise and pollution (less truck traffic), waste (by 90%),  and significant amounts of emissions new techniques will need to be considered in line with the  environmental mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle

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The exoskeleton is inspired by the folds and pleats of a cactus. It naturally provides vertical and lateral restraint and  is braced by the diagonal framing. The solid central column provides support to floors and roof whilst reducing element sizes.

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The sloped roof scape guides large quantities of rainwater to the centre of the microhouse. The water is then funneled through the column into a grey water tank which is located underneath the ground floor slab.

From here it is pumped into the algae filled ETFE facade via a pipe system supplying the algae with both air and water. Microalgae are cultivated within these custom designed ETFE ‘cushions’ (photobioreactors) where they photosynthesise and grow rapidly thus being able to reduce the transparency of the EFTE.

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