The m-ch layout is influenced by traditional Japanese tea house architecture, and the volume is divided into several zones. A zone of wet services houses the toilet, shower, and kitchen. On the central axis is the entrance and kitchen circulation area, which also serves as access to seating in the lower dining area. The upper-level sleeping bunk for two can be folded out of the way, while below, the sunken dining area can double as a sleeping space, also for two.
Building the Cube
Lightweight technology is used throughout, including insulated vacuum aluminum paneling mounted on a wood and galvanized aluminum section providing the basic structure. Several units can be mounted on an external aluminum frame in vertical and horizontal formations, around central lift and stair cores.
Security is not sacrificed in the design of these small houses. The windows are made of heavy-duty glass, the door has a double security lock, and the walls, floor, and roof have six layers of construction materials, making them nearly impenetrable. Fire alarm and smoke detectors are standard, and a security alarm and personal call system are optional.
The unit's creators advocate "less material, more nature," making it ideal for bringing modern conveniences to remote areas. A lower-weight, 1.5-ton (1.4-tonne) version can even be delivered by helicopter.
The standard m-ch requires minimal electrical supply, water, and drainage. In a cold European winter the m-ch is expected to use only 348 kilowatt-hours per month and in the summer, when using air conditioning, about 123. It consumes energy efficiently because it is highly insulated and the small internal air volume heats and cools quickly.
The latest model is completely self-sustainable featuring LED lighting, photovoltaic solar panels, and a vertical-axis wind generator mounted on the mast and the roof. It is being promoted as a mountaintop cabin for snowboarders and skiers, and the kit includes a lockable external drawer for sports equipment.
This "low.e-home" version has carbon dioxide emissions potentially as low as zero. It optionally comes with a small glass-fronted, clip-on wood burning stove to add the warmth and atmosphere of a traditional alpine cabin.
Adding to its positive environmental profile, the unit can be returned to the factory and be completely recycled when it completes its useful life, according to the designers' life-cycle analysis.
Their report details the energy balance and the energy required to manufacture and deliver materials to the factory and to the site. The aluminum, for instance, can be efficiently recycled with only 0.3 percent waste in the process and with only 11 percent of the energy required to make the metal in the first place.
Student Village in Munich
Though intended primarily for short stays, the unit was first tested in a case-study "village" of seven cubes on the campus of the Technical University Munich. The experiment was sponsored by the telecommunications company O2 Germany.
The village was commissioned by the city's student housing authority, Studentenwerk Munich. At the end of the experimental one-semester period, the six students and professor Horden chose to continue living in their tiny apartments for the rest of the academic year.
The units feature Vaku Isotherm Insulation and home technology, including a plasma screen and kitchen appliances, provided by co-sponsors Fujitsu Siemens Computers GmbH and Siemens Electrogeräte GmbH.
The m-ch demonstrates how state-of-the-art technology can be integrated into a lightweight, transportable dwelling to produce an efficient, compact, and apparently desirable living space. According to the designers, this is a step toward bringing residential architecture in line with advances in other industries.
At its current delivered price of nearly US$100,000 (78,700 Euros), the m-ch is probably not a practical option for disaster-recovery mass housing, but the efficiency of space and materials set an interesting example for the housing industry worldwide.
Available only in Europe, at this writing, the m-ch and O2-sponsored m-ch village in Munich received an award in the category of Best Innovative Technology in the 2006 National Homebuilder Design Awards.
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