Michael Fifield, AIA, principal of Fifield Architecture + Urban Design in Eugene, Ore., believes true sustainable design must address the problem of land consumption. “Higher densities are really needed in the future,” he says. “One way of doing that is for people to have smaller living units. You can take a small building and effectively make it feel much larger.”

Hanna Yoshimura, an artist who lives primarily in Japan, knew of Fifield's interest in compact design. She owns a house in Eugene, which she rents out year-round, and asked him to design a live/work studio behind it where she could spend two to three months per year. Fifield obliged with a trim, 269-square-foot structure. Its windows borrow views of neighboring gardens, and its south-facing glass wall opens to a deck that extends the living room outside. The two upstairs lofts' ladders, half walls, and exposed rafters are designed to take up as little physical and visual space as possible. On the main level, a radiant heat concrete floor eliminates the need for bulky radiators. The floor's control joints match a good-luck tatami mat layout, in a subtle nod to the client's Japanese heritage.

Fifield, who is also a professor in the architecture department at the University of Oregon, built parts of the project himself, working with general contractors Geoff Gold (phase one) and Al Coddington (phase two). He hopes it will spark interest in smaller dwellings. “It was almost like doing a demonstration home,” he says.