Bryce Langston has spent the past three years turning his dream of living free from rent, mortgage and utility bills into a reality.

The 32-year-old Aucklander is among a growing tribe of Kiwis embracing the "tiny house" movement - a phenomenon sweeping the United States, largely as a result of the recent economic troubles where many have lost their homes.

Langston, an actor and musician, has spent about $70,000 designing and building his own miniature house on wheels. He hopes the project will offer him an alternative lifestyle in his own home after being priced out of Auckland's booming property market.

"The house might be small but it has steel framing, weatherboards and a corrugated roof like any other regular home," he says. "Because my income is irregular I wanted out of the expensive rent or mortgage trap and this seems like the perfect solution."


Langston became hooked on the idea of extreme downsizing when he saw his first tiny house on wheels online.

"I felt a huge swell of excitement," he says. "Here was a unique opportunity to construct a home that was within my means, that could be beautiful, sustainable and best of all one which I could own without the need to purchase land.

"I knew this would be a game changer for me."

Langston has a growing army of followers to his website. And his YouTube channel Living Big In A Tiny House has almost 250,000 subscribers and has attracted more than 33 million views.

Langston has travelled New Zealand videoing and interviewing like-minded people including Ness and Jess Ortiz, a female couple from the US who began their new life in New Zealand by building a tiny house on wheels.

It is parked up in the garden of a relative at the Kapiti Coast. It is now for sale on TradeMe for $82,500 as the couple recently had to shift back overseas.

With minimal building experience but lots of passion, the dynamic duo designed and constructed a tiny masterpiece that is just 8 metres long and 2.5m wide. They have also launched a blog called Tiny Housewives.

"When we moved from San Francisco we couldn't afford a house here," Ness says. "This is a great go-between for people who want to live within their means."


One of the biggest concerns most people thinking of building a tiny house have is where they will park it, Langston explains.

"But I am amazed at the people who have contacted me and offered land to put it on.

"There are people on lifestyle blocks who have perhaps over invested and want to get a bit of extra income from having a small dwelling on the land. I have also been contacted by elderly people who just want to have someone close by or for extra security."

The micro-home phenomenon is taking off around the world. As cities grapple with growing populations, scarcity of land and rising house prices, many believe tiny homes are the solution.

Ness (left) & Jess tiny housewives have built their own tiny house after moving to New Zealand in 2015. Photo / Bryce Langston
Ness (left) & Jess tiny housewives have built their own tiny house after moving to New Zealand in 2015. Photo / Bryce Langston
Ness and Jess Ortiz lived in a relative's backyard in their 8m by 2.5m home on wheels. Photo / Bryce Langston
Ness and Jess Ortiz lived in a relative's backyard in their 8m by 2.5m home on wheels. Photo / Bryce Langston

Tokyo beginnings

We have been here before - and those who have fallen for the micro-home concept should take heed. Although very much back in vogue, experiments in micro-living have been made several times over the past 90 years, and the results, while fascinating, are not exactly encouraging.

In the late 1960s, Tokyo boomed, and as it did, young people and modest "salary men" and their families sought affordable homes in sprawling new suburbs, commuting to the city centre in the famously jam-packed Metro trains.

The late Kisho Kurokawa, then a radically minded 30-something architect, had an answer to the problem of this mass exodus of the young from Tokyo.

This was his Nakagin Capsule Tower - although it was, like Brill Place, a pair of towers -completed in 1972 in the Shimbashi neighbourhood.

Prefabricated steel capsules, 140 of them, were bolted onto the two central concrete shafts. Each capsule provided a less than 9sq m space, into which was squeezed a bed, a kitchen surface, an aircraft-sized bathroom and the very latest in Japanese audio technology.

Nurtured in an era of minicars, miniskirts and the widespread belief that technological progress was wholly benevolent, Nakagin Capsule Tower was a much-feted, much-photographed revelation.

Today, while the rest of Shimbashi is filled with expensive offices, the tower is in a sorry state.

There has been no hot water here for some years. Rather than chic and futuristic micro-apartments, most of the capsules are boarded up or used for storage or as makeshift offices; a few capsules are available to rent through Airbnb.

Residents wanted more space than Kurokawa could possibly offer, and although the plan had been for the capsules to be unbolted and replaced every 25 years, it failed: It was always going to be cheaper to demolish the towers and build anew, than go through all the palaver of replacing its intricate nest of high-tech capsules.

This Japanese model of mass-produced city housing remains a custom-made novelty loved by architects, but shunned by the residential property market.

Even sorrier than the Nakagin Capsule Tower is the state of Moscow's compelling Narkomfin apartment block, completed in 1932 to designs by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis.

Here were tiny modern movement apartments served by communal kitchens, a laundry, a library, a gym and a roof terrace. This was to be a model of socialist living. Feminist living too.

"Petty housework crushes, strangles and degrades," wrote Vladimir Lenin in his essay A Great Beginning, saying it "chains her [the housewife of the capitalist era] to the kitchen".

"The real emancipation of women, real communism, will begin only where and when an all-out struggle begins...against this petty housekeeping."

Stalin, however, put a sudden end to what he called such "Trotskyite" aberrations.

Almost as soon as the first residents - some of whom installed their own tiny kitchens - moved in, the Narkomfin experiment of communal living was condemned, with rooms becoming individual, disconnected family units.

Now a tarnished ragbag of empty apartments, artists' studios and various oddball enterprises, the Narkomfin Building stands in the shadow of shiny new apartments.

Bryce Langston with his 'Tiny House' project. Photo / Greg Bowker
Bryce Langston with his 'Tiny House' project. Photo / Greg Bowker

Too small?

In spite of these failed monuments to capsule living, idealistic urban planners and architects press ahead.

There's a distinct echo of the Tokyo project in a new proposal from Jeff Wilson, a former associate professor of environmental studies at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas.

Wilson is perhaps best known for living for parts of 2014 and 2015 in a 3sq m dumpster converted into the tiniest and most unlikely home of all, but his latest project is more mobile.

Called Kasita - from casita, Spanish for "little house"- it's a proposal for prefabricated, 30sq m steel studios that can be slotted into a steel frame like bottles into a wine rack.

The idea is that, should a resident want to move, it will be easy to lift these thoroughly equipped micro-apartments out from the rack and, with the help of cranes and a flatbed truck, transport them to a new location equipped with an identical steel rack.

This notion of moving home - your physical home - is certainly intriguing, although you might choose to invest in a motor home instead.

It does highlight, however, one of the major criticisms of microliving. While tiny spaces might appeal to the young and single, what happens if a young single person meets another single young person and they produce a family?

Odds are, many will leave their micro-apartments, resulting in ever-shifting urban populations. Transience is one of the enemies of enduring communities.

The more micro-apartments and towers there are, the more unsettled our city centres might become.

Will the latest wave of micro-apartments become the city slums of the future? Micro-towers may well be signs of the times, yet times change, and for most people, 24sq m will never be quite enough.

That is probably truer for New Zealand and its quarter-acre pavlova dream than for anywhere else in the world.

The next level

But back in Henderson, West Auckland, Langston is busy putting the final touches to his own miniature house at a mate's workshop.

He is convinced more people will join him in his bid to quit the rat race, as New Zealand house prices continue to soar.

"I've been blown away by some of the places I have seen around the country including a house truck that folds out into a fantasy castle," he says. "The Kiwis are not just embracing the tiny house movement, we are taking it up to the next level."