If today's modular design is anything to go by, architects are predicting that we'll soon live and play in spaces that are tighter than ever.

Leaning on prefabrication methods and the ‘pod’ system, modular furniture has moved from individual storage pieces to structures designed to operate as an entire home.

This trend is primarily being directed by booming urban populations, for which accommodation requires a more strategic and condensed approach to design. In addition, there is a growing awareness of environmental responsibility and living sustainably.

The latest modular creation by architecture firm ODDA transformed two 19th century buildings in a historic area of Porto, Portugal into accommodation for tourists and students. Each room contains freestanding “pod” units that house a bathroom, a slide out bed, desk, kitchenette and other furniture and storage areas.The module also has infrastructure for water supply and ventilation and can be customised depending on its usage and location requirements.

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Kitchen area

The project, dubbed LOIOS, demonstrates a convenient and affordable solution to fitting out unused properties in cities.

“This module can be applied in other rehabilitation century buildings,” ODDA’s website states. “Eighteenth/nineteenth in historic Port because it has the ability to adapt to the typical dimensions of housing this time fulfilling the technical requirements and habitability of our days.”

The building spans six floors, with the ground floor reserved for commercial space with each additional floor featuring four independent units.

The pod is constructed from light steel while inside, cement fibre board panels and glass panels make up the walls and partitions.

The exterior of the boxes also features an industrial-style perforated pattern reflected in other buildings across the city. ODDA, which also worked on the building’s facade, wanted the project to reflect the local history, so the building’s exterior features a ceramic tile that appears in traditional facades across the town.

ODDA Concept Illustration

ODDA concept illustration

ODDA said the structural materials are natural and recyclable, with paints and varnishes sourced from vegetable bases and natural resins. The thermal and acoustic insulation are a combination of cork and modular based word (CoR). It is free of VOC emissions and consumes little energy.

“Technically, there is intense demand balance between energy performance and environmental space, the economic costs and architectural constraints,” ODDA said. “This rehabilitation, intended to safeguard their unique characteristics and identity while responding to the needs of environmental comfort, optimisation of demand and supply of electricity and water, quality of materials and promoting reuse and recycling of end of life products.”

Energy efficient lighting provides illumination, while a geothermal heat pump has been installed. Another system collects rainwater for use in toilets and for washing clothes, while the toilets will also reuse water from sinks and tap flow.

While ODDA’s project isn’t visually striking, it does demonstrate the opportunity of re-use both by placing a module in an existing building.

It could also be a benchmark for a residential market with cities seeking sustainable accommodation solutions.

A similar, and perhaps more customisable example is Boxetti by designer Rolands Landsbergs. Boxetti sees each modular space separated – a bedroom and wardrobe are boxed alone, as is the kitchen and a desk. They can be configured within a space and packed away into box form when not required.