Tiny House – sustainability on wheels

How to turn a dwelling into a lifestyle

The tiny house movement is a broad and colourful phenomenon. It is as integral to the European cultures as it is to the American psyche. However, like with many innovations and cultural shifts, the tiny house living philosophy links to North American pioneers such as Henry David Thoreau. This proponent of simple living lived in a tiny house he built in the woods. The 70s and 80s is a scene for several books about small living. Although it wasn’t till the late 90s when English architect Sarah Susanka and Kira Obolensky published “The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Live.” The book has become an authoritative guide for everyone interested in the idea of living big in a smaller space. Susanka popularised design ideas in a new, personalised way. This gave people resources and an easy language to express their needs for quality, minimalism, maximisation of space and sustainability in home design when dealing with professionals.

How tiny house is a vehicle for a sustainable tiny house movement

These ideas not only built on past architectural principles of human-friendly, healthy and sustainable design. Here we can think of the work of Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. They also became a cultural catalyst in response to a growing disillusionment with America’s Mc Mansion model, growing property prices and the general disconnect from sustainability. In a way pragmatism of smaller and greener building alternatives, that future homeowners could tap into, took over. The ideas engaged the popular imagination and created a formal tiny house movement with many homeowners among its followers. Groups such as “Cultural Creatives” joined this social movement. In recent years tiny house has arguably become one of the best American exports to Europe. We see today many American and Canadian companies bringing the latest innovation in tiny house design to the market.  

The more recent North American tiny house movement rolled into Europe over a decade ago. But tiny houses on wheels have been integral to Europe’s landscapes. Even before the Romani caravans with their horse-pulled wagons hit the dirt roads, before settling in every country.

In the words of Greek scholars, much earlier Eurasian travelling tribes such as Scythians who came out of what today is Iran and moved through the Black Sea region, carried their dwellings on four or six wheels. Their small homes had objects designed for mobile living complete with small tables with legs that came apart for convenient transport. They were probably the world’s first examples of multi-use furniture that so many present day tiny house aficionados are equipping their homes with. This is a truly astonishing part of mobile tiny house history repeating itself. As if moving our home and its furniture has always resided in our collective psyche.

The French ‘Manouches’ Roma, the Spanish ‘Cale’ Roma and the British Roma travellers moved this way. Latvian-born Russian-Roma poet Leksa Manush calls them “lost Indian tribe.” They arrived in the Balkans in the 6th century and were the true masters of the art of tiny living on the road.

Today the movement has grown to encompass every type of small living; from statics to homes on wheels, from humble DIY homes through to designer tiny houses with state-of-the art mod cons to even tiny house hotels and dedicated tiny house residential sites.  So there is something for everyone. The first European settlers going to North American territories were also using similar wagons. Furthermore, we can see that the tiny home’s concept has been exported to the US from Europe to be later re-exported as a modern phenomenon back to Europe.

Living in a tiny house – a big promise for humanity and the planet from European perspectives

Small home building and living trend is slowly but surely evolving, but it is a long way off before moving into the mainstream.  There are still some land use and legal barriers not to mention cultural education that needs to follow for the society as a whole to be wholeheartedly embracing this innovative housing solution.  Tiny houses are good economically and socially. How?  They can be one of the ways to help bring about the regeneration that is much talked about in Europe in terms of creating new affordable housing models, new more creative jobs and even industries while at the same time addressing homelessness and other social ills. Architecturally and environmentally tiny houses offer us a useful gauge to see where the land lies in terms of what people want from a house.  So design, personal, and planet health as well as community living dynamics are main concerns relating to tiny houses.  For they are, by default, built more efficiently and ecologically than conventional non-eco houses just by having a much lower footprint than your average one-bedroom house.  

How tiny houses are revolutionising the house market and the concept of home ownership

The popularity enjoyed by this type of design, which is evident in leisure and tourism sectors, also indicates that this novel house option is here to stay.  The leisure industry has registered a steep upward trend in glamping-style, back-to-nature holidays where people can taste a surprising luxury. This is possible thanks to a holistically designed tiny living space albeit in a wooden pod, tiny house on wheels, or a tiny hut floated on a raft in the middle of a lake.

Small spaces that are detailed in ergonomic and purposeful eco design that comes also with much cheaper cost to homeowners speak to many, not just converted enthusiasts. This is mainly because the ethos underlying all of this is greater self-sufficiency and thus independence, the fun of making things with our own hands and putting our own mark on our tiny space. All of this tends to attract ever more dextrous and adventurous buyers.


Natural-built tiny house with biophilic design and a green roof: https://www.livingbiginatinyhouse.com/natural-built-tiny-house-incorporates-biophilic-design-and-a-living-roof/#more-11229

Christopher Alexander A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press,  1977.

‘The traditional horse-drawn wagon used by British Romani people as their home’ image. Online source: thevintagenews.com

“Forgotten Indian Diaspora In Europe – 1000 years ago.” Online source: https://2ndlook.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/forgotten-abandoned-enslaved-indians-in-europe/#comment-7063

“Gypsies arrived in Europe 1,500 years ago, genetic study says.” Online source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/07/gypsies-arrived-europe-1500-genetic

“Herodotus and the Scythians.” Expedition Magazine. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/herodotus-and-the-scythians

Floating hut in Pressac, France https://www.village-flottant-pressac.com/cabanes/

The Romani caravans image, Mariusz Batura on pinterest