Diogene micro home pushes the boundaries for off-the-grid tiny living


June 19, 2013

Italian architect Renzo Piano has created the Diogene micro unit (Photo: Vitra)

Italian architect Renzo Piano has created the Diogene micro unit (Photo: Vitra)

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Italian architect Renzo Piano has gone from building Europe’s tallest building (the Shard in London) to one of its smallest. Finally completing his career-long dream of building a micro house that only measures 7.5 sq m (81 sq ft), Piano’s single-occupancy unit has been added to the gardens of the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Dubbed “Diogene,” the small structure is named in honor of the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, who was said to have abandoned all worldly luxuries and conventions for the simplicity of living in a large ceramic jar.

While it’s hard to imagine how a unit that measures 3 by 2.5 meters (9.8 by 8.2 ft) can be big enough to be called a home, the Diogene model provides the simplest of comforts for one person without leaving anything out. The micro home features a living area which comes equipped with a foldaway desk and chair, sofa bed and recessed storage boxes. A separated utilities space features a composting toilet, shower plate and a small kitchen unit with built-in sink and refrigerator.

What really makes this tiny home functional, however, is the amount of storage space. Storage units have been incorporated throughout the entire unit – they are built into the walls, the floors and even the roof. Furthermore, each internal component has been ergonomically designed to occupy the minimum amount of space, and for easy usage.

The Diogene micro-structure is made from a lightweight yet durable shell that can withstand a wide range of temperature variants, including extreme heat and snow storms. The bearing shell has been built using cross-laminated cedar timber panels with a thin aluminum exterior coating, which helps strengthen the structure while also reflecting heat.

A series of sustainable technologies have been put to use outside, above and below the unit, giving the module its off-the-grid status. The roof is fitted with a boiler tank and solar panels, which provide the home with hot water and enough electricity to power the interior LED lights, electric stove and small refrigerator. Rainwater is collected and stored in special containers positioned underneath the house. The water is then filtered, pumped and used for the shower and kitchen.

In addition, the entire cabin has been insulated to keep the interior cozy in winter and cool in summer, and the triple glazed windows (including the large skylight) are all fitted with roller shades. The Diogene home sits just above the ground, so it has very little impact on its surrounding environment and its total weight is just a few tons, thus allowing it to be transported easily, be it by helicopter or truck.

Although the Diogene micro home is only big enough to accommodate one person, it would make a great backyard office, nature retreat or studio. Three different versions of the living unit are anticipated to be available from Vitra in 2014 and we hope the collection will include a bigger version that’s suitable for a couple or small family.

The Diogene prototype is currently being tested on the grounds of the Vitra Campus, and visitors are welcome to pass by and check it out for themselves.

Sources: Vitra Magazine, Vitra Campus, RPBW via Designboom

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

Two comments: 1) Nice outhouse, 2) 81 square feet is way too much to clean. I'm thinking like 9 sq feet.

Rick H

As a house fit only for a madman it is nice that it is named after a madman. It adds symmetry.


Make it lighter, stick wheels under it and call it a caravan! Should OH&S regulations be concerned about the hygiene worries with the toilet/shower and kitchen sharing the same space? Can you imagine cooking breakfast with the results of yesterday's (or a visitor's) curry binge reeking through that small room? Or escaping into the rest of that tiny space? An exhaust fan would be a MUST!

The Skud

How much? I'm going to guess that we won't want to hear it in cost/sq. ft...


too little insulation, for an off grid house, will be cold in there

Harry van Trotsenburg

Looks like a lot of fun.It is a pity Piano did not put it on a wheel platform. Involving a crane in the process makes it far less independent. There is learning in the experience of the small house movement in the US.

Grigore Mitrea

I prefer Diogenes as the "seeker of truth, an honest man." While this design, and many others, are on the road to EC (Environmentally Correct), recycling needs to be further addressed in this and other designs.

Barry Dennis

Would make a great mother in law house, or ice fishing

Jay Finke

We've had something similar in the UK for years.

We call it the garden shed...

Keith Reeder

Kitchen/Bath in same room. Really? I wonder how that compost toilet will work out in such a small setting. BTW - where's the cooktop? The design would be much more practical - and more honest with a separate outhouse.


get a trailer get a winch build a temp cradle n winch er on there, bolt er down. fire up the rig an ur off.


Clever self contained. With a set of plans( blueprint) and materials list plus supplier listings , this looks a excellent project for we D I Y types ..... Looks adaptable for those needing some more stretch room ..... could be assembled on site ...... For my part ,I would like to prefabricate and assemble on a pontoon as now retired, I want to travel the Inter-coastal Waterway /Canal in a live aboard ....

May I say to architect Renzo Piano : "Well done,Sir" "I salute you"

Old goat

Nothing revolutionary. But in support of the design against those that are bagging it,

Toilet and kitchen are separated by a door. Opening outer door will also vent cooking fumes away form the bedroom/living room. Big side window makes the inside look bigger, and the desk inside is very large. Insulation is what you make it. Modern materials don't require the walls to be very thick

Possible improvements I would have preferred more windows on the other side.

Yes this is a caravan without wheels, though I don't recall a caravan on the market with a big panoramic window and separate kitchennette unless you go for a large mobile home type. So there is your distinction. And the sloped roof would make the enclose appear much more roomy, where as most caravans have a low roof to accommodate road legal requirements.

The really good news is this layout is really straightforward to replicate in an old bus. You can use the seat anchors to mount all the various bits, including dividing walls. Benefit of a bus of course is the additional room, and in some models, the dual entry.


Much easier to be a critic than to design and put together the complete package.

My only concern is how well it would perform in the 43C-47C summer days we get in Phoenix, Arizona from May through October. Probably the insulation would need to be beefed up plus we'd probably need a radiant barrier on the outside of that insulation with a 50mm ventilated air gap between it and the external cladding. An ERV system with a blower fan to keep indoor air movement on the go would probably also be needed for the interior to remain within comfort zones.

Still, I like the idea behind the cabin. Designed and built like you'd design an aircraft and delivered on site. When you think about this process, you could change the way human habitat is designed, manufactured and delivered - and I'm not advocating a "one-size-fits-all" approach to things like housing or schools and so on. I'm talking about the integration of BIM, manufacturing and product design and assembly to produce better-performing habitats than the shoddily-designed and built structures most builders and developers throw up these days.

Phil Allsopp
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