Aside from an almost overwhelming explosion of energy-efficient lighting options, if there was one single trend on the green home front of note in 2011 it was the big-time emergence of small-sized, sustainable homes. And with many homeowners embracing their inner Thoreau and continuing to shed excess square footage in an effort to live simpler, more efficient lives — still, only 5 percent of Americans consider a tiny home to be their “dream home” according to a recent Yahoo! Real Estate survey — I don’t think that the tiny home movement is at risk of fading away in 2012.

For my inaugural "small-minded" story of '12, here’s a look at a most interesting — and controversial— conversion project in Vancouver's increasingly trendy Gastown district where a design team headed by Bruce Carscadden has renovated the Burns Block building — most recently, the historic structure housed one of the city’s more notorious flophouses — to make way for 30 pint-sized rental apartments measuring between 226 and 291 square feet. And in ungodly expensive Vancouver, these “microlofts” marketed towards young professionals (Grist calls the units “shantytowns for hipsters”) are somewhat of a steal at $850/month with Internet and cable included.

What’s more, each of the units — apparently they’re the smallest self-contained rentals not just in B.C. but in all of Canada — in the carefully renovated, century-old building come furnished with a sofa, chairs, a coffee table, flat-screen television, and dishwasher. But oddly, they're without ovens … what’s the point of a dishwasher if you can’t cook? And what will residents use as backup shoe storage? And the pièce de résistance in these walk-in closet-sized dwellings? That would be the Murphy bed, of course, which comes with integrated folding tables.

Carscadden explains the transformative nature of the units:

The design for the apartments explores the dichotomies of small dwelling units and highly livable spaces. Identifying these challenges, we began by focusing on identifying critical livability issues such as light, efficiency, privacy, security and dignity, and looked to small Japanese spaces for their focus on effective use of space without having to sacrifice beauty and aesthetic. Using creative and careful product selection and innovative thinking about layouts and floor plans, a customizable and changeable design was generated. Each apartment reflects the needs of the resident and the requirements of the day — the bedroom becomes a dining room becomes a living room and so on. Design becomes a paramount commodity in an exercise of inches — even the washroom entry door doubles as the shower door depending on the position and latching.

I'm a fan — a thoughtful, well-executed example of adaptive reuse that creates affordable middle-income rental housing while injecting the “less is more” ethos of tiny homes into an urban context. Still, the project hasn’t been exactly free of controversy as many housing activists see the conversion as a tactic to thin out Downtown Eastside Vancouver's abundance of SROs and force low-income residents out of the area. To read more about the 18 West Hastings Street Microlofts, head on over to The National Post and to CBC News.

What do you think of the project? Simply too small for the price or just about right?

Via [The National Post] via [Grist], [CBC]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Tiny apartments garner big attention in Vancouver
A historic building on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that formerly housed a SRO is transformed into a rental property containing 30 transformative 'microlofts'