Earlier this year, many design blogs published a very cool photo of a white, egg-shaped capsule perched on the edge of a misty cliff. It was a cute, chic version of a tiny home – one that could evoke the romantic impulse of getting away from it all.
“It has a certain kind of autonomy, and I think people really respond to that,” says Los Angeles architect Kevin Daly. “It wouldn’t be as necessary to be connected to the grid.”
The egg was made by a small architecture firm, ECOCAPSULE, in Slovakia.
DnA reporter Sáša Woodruff toured an ecocapsule outside the small town of Bratislava. The silvery pod she visited was not in a misty mountaintop, overlooking a valley, like the promotional photos romanticized, but plopped in a grassy lot in the Slovakian suburbs.
In person, the capsule is shiny and streamlined, like a midcentury Airstream trailer. Step inside, and it’s compact; you can tell every inch was designed to squeeze in a maximum number of features.
The usable floorspace is about 20 square feet, but that space is filled with necessities: a small table for working and eating, a kitchenette, a bathroom with a shower and composting toilet.
At the ecocapsule’s helm is a spinning propeller which acts as a wind turbine. Contoured over the roof are solar panels. Batteries live under the floor to store excess energy, and the curved walls are insulated with aerogels to maximize heating and cooling. According to Tomas Zacek, ECOCAPSULE’s lead architect, one capsule can produce enough energy for occupants to cool, heat and light the space for an entire year.
Zacek and his team chose an egg shape because it had the energy efficiency of a sphere with a bit more practicality; each ecocapsule can fit into a standard rectangular shipping container.
When images of the pod first went viral, ECOCAPSULE noticed that the majority of the interest was in the United States. The state with the most interest was California.
“The ecopod captured a little bit of people’s imagination. I think there’s definitely a Walden-like ability for people to look at that and imagine,” said Daly.
“It’s got everything they need to get by. But also, its inherent rootlessness and variability in setting is a really important characteristic of it.”
Daly says millennials are especially more open to smaller, simpler living spaces like the ecocapsule. And considering that California is home to some of the most expensive housing in the country, the pod’s draw is understandable.
However, its designers never anticipated for the ecocapsule to be a primary home. It was designed with off-the-grid researchers in mind, as well as for temporary housing at places like music festivals or remote film shoots.
The hitch: in order for the ecocapsules to get to these remote locations, owners would need a crane or a forklift to move the egg. Another issue is the pod’s lack of running water.
“You have to connect to a stream or bring water. We’re not magicians,” Zacek joked. “We can’t tell the rain to just come.”
The first ecocapsules were produced in a small batch – just 50 homes – and built by hand. ECOCAPSULE hopes to mass-produce the next run and in doing so bring the price down from its current $90,000.