This summer, a structure appeared on New York City’s UN plaza that began to turn heads. The 237-square-foot prototype, called the Ecological Living Module (ELM), is a home designed by New Haven-based architects Gray Organschi in collaboration with the Center for Ecosystems in Architecture at Yale (CEA) at the request of the UN Environment Programme. But you don't have to know all that to see why it caught our attention. The architecture is spacious and airy in contrast to the sometimes-cramped feel of other “tiny houses.” As Lisa Gray, one of the architects, says, “We were delighted that so many visitors exclaimed that ‘it doesn't feel small at all’ or ‘I could easily live here.’”
There is more to the ELM than just aesthetics, however. The design marks both an extension of and a departure from the much-discussed tiny house movement, largely due to its geographical flexibility and ecological focus. “It can be fully self-sustaining,” Lisa and Alan Organschi explain. “As designed, it is entirely off the grid, making all its own power, recycling its gray water, and composting waste.” The unit is also made entirely from locally sourced, renewable materials (primarily black spruce) and contains heating and cooling powered by its solar harvesting. The ELM could function completely independent of existing utilities and infrastructure, giving it an additional cultural flexibility that's perhaps the most compelling aspect of the design. It's just as well suited for rural areas as it is urban environments.
Take, for example, a south-facing porch on the design that features a fold-up panel—the combination forms a sort of built-in storefront. Lisa and Alan “envision the possibility of residents selling food harvested from the green wall or even energy harvested from the solar panels” through such an opening. The significance of this globally and ecologically minded tiny structure sharing the same plaza as the Trump World Tower, that dark rectangle with a prepuce of gold lettering and bronze-tinted glass that boasts 90 floors on its elevator panels but only has 72 constructed, is lost on no one. One hopes that while the ELM was only temporarily installed this summer it has a bright and realized future.