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Mini-Homes: Cozy, Cost-Effective And Oh So Cute

Big ideas sometimes come in small packages. In both Europe and the United States, home designers are downsizing, offering mini-residences that are mobile, modular and moderately priced.

One of Jay Shafer's 'Tiny Houses'
One of Jay Shafer's "Tiny Houses"
Harald Czycholl

It was mainly the burden of regular mortgage payments and the costly upkeep of his home in California that set Jay Shafer to thinking. Whittling away everything he didn't absolutely need, he came up with a big idea – in a rather small package: the "Tiny House." The 269-square-foot space is comprised of a kitchen, bathroom and living and sleeping space. Shafer's mini-house even has wheels.

Since designing the home, the 46-year-old has been producing and selling them through the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company he founded for that purpose. Each house costs roughly 40,000 dollars, or 30,000 euros.

There's a growing demand for the little homes, which are tailor-made to suit individual tastes and budgets. "Business is booming,"" Shafer says. "The idea of keeping things to a bare minimum is currently very popular.""

Money concerns may not be the only thing driving the popularity of these mini-homes. The attraction of a small, relatively tight space could also be instinctual – the same instinct that makes a child equate a tree house with comfort, safety and protection.

The small-house phenomenon is not unique to the United States, where the real estate sector has been hit hard and many have no choice but to sell their homes. The "Mikrohaus," or micro-home, is also gaining in popularity in Europe.

Designed by Austrian Sascha Haas, the rectangular, 280-square-foot Mikrohaus is easy to transport and also boasts a rooftop terrace. It is sold on the Mikrohaus.com website. Haas' main objective was to create a mobile space with low energy requirements. "What I mean by mobile is that the house can be moved for a reasonable price,"" says Haas.

A modular system, and the fact it doesn't require a foundation, make the house very flexible. Key in hand, the ready-to-go unit costs 36,660 euros (about 49,000 dollars). Haas has already identified various target groups as potential buyers, among them the environmentally conscious. With its low energy requirements, the Mikrohaus is a low emission money-saver. As it requires no foundation, it makes less of an impact on the land as well.

Another target group is single people. According to the federal office for statistics, slightly less than 40% of German residences are one-person households. In big cities like Berlin and Hamburg, the figure is 50%, and the trend in general is on the rise.

Because of the standardized way Haas' mini houses are made, two or more of the units can be combined. Should a partner move in or children be born, in other words, a second or even third unit can be added.

A third target group is older people whose children have left home and who want to cut down on housing costs in order to free up money up for other things, such as travel. Adult children with larger properties may also want to build one on their land – a way to keep parents nearby, yet out of the main house. When the parents no longer need the space, the micro-house can either be added on to the main house as an extension, or moved and used as a second home somewhere else.

Haas is not the first European to explore the idea of drastically downsized houses. Six years ago, Munich architecture professor Richard Horden built "Micro-Compact Homes'" for students at Munich's Technical University. Measuring slightly under 106 cubic feet, each home has space for a bed, a table and chairs, a bath area and kitchen nook. Although initially built as an experiment, the houses – grouped together in a "mini village" – are still occupied by students.

Neither Germany nor the United States, however, can claim the world's smallest house. The tiniest of the tiny homes is actually in Israel, where Tel Aviv architect Hagai Nagar designed a minuscule 43-square-foot home that somehow provides its occupant enough room to shower, sleep, cook and even park a bicycle.

Nagar's ecologically-motivated objective in designing the tiny house, which he christened the "Chu 200,"" was to use as few materials as possible. The house weighs a mere 1,500 lbs. Solar cells on the roof supply electrical current and warm water.

"Basically, with the Chu, life takes place in the garden,"" says Nagar. "The space doesn't open up towards the interior of the unit, it opens towards the outside.""

Read the original article in German.

Photo - nicolas.boullosa

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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