Small Spaces in the City: Rethinking Inside the Box

Looking at the challenges and innovative solutions for small live-and-work spaces in the city | Free Admission

  • 8Sep
  • 16Mar
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‘An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it.’ Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Whilst there is much said about the negative impacts of micro-living – from issues around loneliness and isolation to health and wellbeing – households continue to shrink.  In response, architects and designers are rethinking small spaces, developing innovative solutions that are flexible, healthy, modular, mobile and playful.

Clare Farrow Studio brings a brilliant array of these designs to Roca London Gallery this autumn, with models, illustrations and film that show how designers from London to Tokyo have responded to the challenge of small spaces.  Small Spaces in the City: Rethinking Inside the Box exhibition also asks how these small space concepts can be applied across housing typologies; as well as whether a small space can only work for a single person or young couple, with minimalist minds.

Presenting new interviews, research, experiments, and a specially commissioned film that explores movement, health and wellbeing in a small space with Royal Ballet Principal, William Bracewell, other participants include: Proctor & Shaw, Intervention Architecture, Satoko Shinohara, Takeshi Hosaka, the Kuma Lab, Gary Chang, JCPCDR architecture, Paola Bagna, White Arkitekter, nArchitects, Studio Noju and Colin Chee of YouTube’s Never Too Small.

Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit will feature a human experiment – Associate Professor at The Bartlett School of Architecture, Richard Beckett, will occupy a small booth in the centre of the gallery for a number of days, to measure the impact of his ongoing research into probiotic design: the relationship between humans and microbes in the built environment.  Working with an immunologist at UCL on the Japanese wellbeing concept of shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing’ (Miyazaki, 2018) – which acknowledges the positive impacts on the body and mind of immersion in nature – Beckett is experimenting with bringing the forest into the home by injecting interior tiling with forest floor microbes.  The booth will be lined with these tiles, exposing Beckett to the microbes that could only otherwise be accessed deep in nature.

“An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it.” Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)


Beckett says “Exposure to microbes associated with natural environments plays a fundamental role in shaping immunoregulatory health.  We’re trying to develop biologically active materials for buildings, using a novel soil material rich in microbial communities that can ‘rewild’ the indoor environment – bringing microbial diversity associated with nature.”

Next, visitors will encounter a specially commissioned film featuring ballet dancer William Bracewell.  No stranger to making do with very little space, Bracewell worked with Intervention Architecture to create an ingenious flexible solution for his own Barbican Estate studio flat, including a ceiling-height library unit with fold-out double bed that converts to dining and storage areas.  For Candida Richardson’s short film, Bracewell is shown preparing for a performance and then responding directly through his own choreography to his compact 22 sqm dressing room in the Royal Opera House, showing both the limitations, as well as what can be experienced and achieved in small space.

A leading example of the successful manipulation of small space, Hong Kong-based Gary Chang’s own 32 sqm apartment is now legendary.  Through 40 years of occupying the space, he has relentlessly re-configured it.  The Domestic Transformer, as he calls his home, currently boasts 24 different rooms, which emerge and collapse through an ingenious system of sliding walls. Chang discusses his philosophy, which is both playful and reflects a very serious awareness of time, space, and wellbeing, in a special interview for the Small Spaces exhibition.

A series of designs by University of Tokyo students, led by Japanese architectural designer Toshiki Hirano, take the folding Rika-chan doll’s house as a model for small space thinking, while a section on ingenious furniture solutions includes: the De-dimension collection, by South Korean designer Jongha Choi – collapsible furniture that can be folded flat to hang in a space as artwork; an animation of Robert van Embricqs’ biomorphic Flow Wall Desk, which opens out from the wall; and Nendo studio’s celebrated 7 Doors project, which re-imagines every possible configuration for a simple wooden door.

The exhibition also looks at the issues of isolation that solo-living can bring.  Architect Satoko Shinohara’s research into this area resulted in her celebrated Share Yaraicho, the first new-build, shared-house in Japan, when it completed in 2012.

Exhibition curator Clare Farrow says, ‘As high-density cities continue to expand and people look for more and more imaginative and sustainable ways to live and remain in the heart of the action, it is exciting to explore the incredible range of ideas that are rethinking the urban box. The future of compact living looks positive, if it is approached with: the right balance between privacy and community; the use of natural materials and multifunctional concepts; and an emphasis on health and wellbeing – right across the board.’

“The future of compact living looks positive, if it is approached with: the right balance between privacy and community; the use of natural materials and multifunctional concepts; and an emphasis on health and wellbeing – right across the board.” Clare Farrow, Clare Farrow Studio


About Clare Farrow Studio

Clare Farrow is an interdisciplinary curator and writer, working with architecture, design, art, poetry, and music, and is the founder of Clare Farrow Studio. Her multisensory exhibitions have been shown in international festivals, museums and galleries, including London Design Festival at the V&A, London Design Biennale, Milan Design Week, and Roca London and Barcelona Galleries. These projects include: ‘Childhood ReCollections: Memory in Design’ for Roca in 2015-16, ‘Bamboo Ring: Weaving into Lightness’ by Kengo Kuma at the V&A in 2019 and Milan Fuorisalone in 2021, ‘Reinventing Texture’ by Toshiki Hirano at London Design Biennale 2021, and most recently, The Humanitarian Pavilion ‘Paper Sanctuary’ by Shigeru Ban at London Design Biennale 2023.

Admission is free and there’s no need to book.


Roca London Gallery would like to give a special thanks to our exhibition design and fabrication partners and sponsors:

  • Scenography by Jean-Christophe Petillault, JCPCDR (participating Paris architect and designer of The Flying Table)
  • Exhibition design by award-winning industrial product and furniture designer Tom Robinson
  • Design collaboration and specially commissioned Reading-Seating Unit by Paola Bagna (participating Berlin architect)
  • Graphic design by Patrick Morrissey, Unlimited
  • Fabrication by Paris master carpenter Thibault Pitois, L’Atelier Pan, Paris
  • Special advisers: Toshiki Hirano (The University of Tokyo), Colin Chee (Never too Small)

Also Sponsors:

  • Oberflex (Main Material Sponsor)
  • KGK Genix (Printing Sponsor, supporting local art colleges)
  • Silvera and Sonae Arauco (Reading – Seating Unit)


Image © Takeshi Hosaka, Love2 House, photo Koji Fujii / Nacasa & Partners Inc.

Please note, due to unforeseen circumstances, photography or video recording is currently not permitted at Roca London Gallery.


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