The home of the future might only be as big as a large closet. At least, that’s what Jeff Wilson, CEO of the modular housing startup Kasita, would like you to believe. The company, which won a 2016 South by Southwest Innovation Award for Smart Cities, has partnered with industrial designer Remy Labesque to create a tiny house powered by technology.
The current Kasita prototype sits on a lot in East Austin and tops out at 208 square feet. Future models will leap to a roomy 319 square feet. The project was born of an experiment Wilson performed while working as a professor at nearby Huston-Tillotson University: living in a dumpster for a year. “Small space living and the big things in life you get out of it” is how Wilson describes the impetus for Kasita.
The prototype is a far cry from a dumpster, and from the kinds of tiny houses that are currently omnipresent. Labesque, who had never designed a home before, was tasked with reinventing the way people live. The result is what Wilson describes as “an iPhone you can live in, or a Tesla.” Made of stainless steel, with a glass box that overhangs the front and serves as office space, the Kasita looks more like a spaceship than a cottage. The glass will be dynamic and voice-controlled, turning opaque with a command. Machine learning software will even allow the house to remember how warm you like your shower.
Like an iPhone or a Tesla, Kasita can be mass-manufactured. Currently, the company’s facilities are capable of producing seven per day. They have also designed a multilevel rack system that can be outfitted to accommodate multiple units, creating high-rise Kasita developments that resemble the work of the Japanese Metabolists.
What will all of this innovation cost the Kasita buyer? At press time, the company had not released definitive figures, though Wilson hinted that it would be comparable to the price of a luxury car. Developers in some cities have already placed orders to create affordable housing complexes, and in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco an 84-unit development has been planned where Kasita units will rent for $1,330 a month, each.
Wilson wants Kasita to have an “aspirational, iconic look,” and envisions the modular units as the “first turnkey, shipped home with smart tech.” When a Kasita-dweller is done in a city, they can simply unplug from the rack and move on to the next “vertical RV park” in the newest urban hot spot. In order to make the units feasible for families, future iterations might include ways to connect multiple units, building a hive of interlocked capsules. And for those who would prefer not to be stacked, a cradle option allows the units to sit, free-standing, in a backyard or on a lot.
Wilson treads in the footsteps of Buckminster Fuller and the Metabolists, but it remains to be seen if people will finally warm to high-concept, small-space living.
Alyssa Morris is web editor of Texas Architect.