Blog: 3 August 2017Micro-architecture and camping in style

Will Thomas

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Will Thomas

Senior Architect

Bristol office

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As increasing pressure on land and resources requires us to design more efficiently, we have seen a growth in micro-architecture – small, compact and sometimes even mobile places to work, live and play. Whether it be a home, office studio or rural retreat, micro-architecture’s clever use of space and light to create meaningful experiences could influence the way in which we design and think about our everyday places and spaces.

This idea of mobile micro-living is most associated with the caravan holiday, with over two million people caravanning, and an industry contributing £6bn to the UK economy each year. Bristol was the birth place of the caravan and since its creation by the Bristol Carriage Company in the 1880s, its popularity has grown massively. In the early 20th century, rapid urban migration and the expansion of cities encouraged a desire for people to escape from their busy lives to rural locations, whilst keeping the comforts of home.

In recent years ‘glamping’ has become increasingly popular, and from my own experience of a rainy night at Reading and Leeds Festival in a budget tent it’s not hard to see why. Glamping provides the opportunity for even the least outdoorsy of people to combine the experience and connection to nature camping provides, without sacrificing the comforts of home.

This was an idea at the heart of our ‘Little Dragon’ design – one of eight winners in the Epic Retreats competition, a pioneering project for the first pop-up hotel celebrating the best Wales has to offer. Our Little Dragon Glamping cabin forms part of an eight-piece ensemble comprised of a range of exciting and unique designs that reflect welsh mythology, place and culture, all offering a variety of truly unique experiences. We focused on creating a hikers’ retreat, which provides some of the functionality and luxury of home in the wilderness of Wales. These escapist ventures are part of the 2017 Year of Legends that aims to boost the local tourist economy and the significance of Wales as a tourist destination.

Creating both a functional and comfortable place to live and rest within such a small space led to a range of design challenges. Part of the solution came from a conceptual separation between a generous upper floor, and a more functional lower floor. Upstairs, a round bed fills the entirety of the space, with a panoramic glazed lantern creating a light and airy feel and the wide views allowing the user to immerse themselves in the expansive landscape.

The lower floor utilises space-saving storage solutions and precision cut furniture, tailored to fit the curved walls. Connecting these two spaces by a ladder led to an innovative and playful cabin, with a distinctive upright form.

The range of inspiring and innovative responses to the constraints of the brief and Welsh context was great to see. Ranging from cabins with openable roofs to experience the stars, through to a yurt-like structure that could be assembled and dissembled with ease, they demonstrated the huge range of ways micro architecture can be approached, and how the spaces and experiences can be configured within the tight size and budget limitations to maximum effect.

It was great to have the opportunity to experiment with micro-architecture and push the boundaries as to what can be achieved in a tight and restricted space. I think this could prove to be an exciting time for architecture and perhaps micro-architecture, with the approaches that arise from its size constraints becoming a valuable tool for experimentation, that could be applied to a variety of projects. 

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micro-architecture, A is for Architecture, Little Dragon