The need for space-saving design ideas

Space, as in occupied areas, seems to be somewhat generously available on Earth. However, the standards that specify the minimum gross internal areas per person (nationally described space standards) are very different in every country. In the UK, where London was tightly packed and built, and where smaller rooms were easier and cheaper to heat up, small spaces are ordinary. The ceiling height being 2.4m (7.87 feet) is considered normal, 2.7m (8.86 feet) overly generous and according to the space standards, a 1 bedroom dwelling designed for a single person should have a minimum of 39m2/420 sqft (if there is a shower instead of a bathtub then 37m2/398 sqft), while if it’s designed for 2 people then 50m2/538 square feet is acceptable. Surface area isn’t calculated in with less than 900mm head height and calculated as 50% surface if it has 900-1500mm head height. (
The building codes and standards work differently in the US but according to a report on Minimum Requirement for Lots and Building Size in 1952 states similar space allowance for a building designed for one person, while it gets more generous with further occupants.
“For the one-person family, a dwelling of 400 square feet of floor area is desirable. A two-person family requires a dwelling unit having 750 square feet of usable floor area; a three-person family requires 1,000 square feet of floor space; a four-person family, 1,150 square feet; a five-person family, 1,400 square feet; and a six-person family, 1,550 square feet”
In Japan on the other hand the maximum size of the building compared to the land it is designed on is strictly set, while the minimum space standard is only a guideline. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan recommends a minimum of 25m2/269 sqft for a single person but advices that the ideal would be 40m2/431sqft. However the minimum recommended living space for a household with 2 people it goes up to 30m2/323sqft, with 3 persons it’s 40m2/431sqft.
That’s why genius space saving design solutions can be found in Tokyo. Similarly to camper vans and sometimes cruise ship cabins, architectural designers must utilise the available space as savvy as possible and that will be needed in space. As in orbit.
Not all of the brilliant design ideas are useful in microgravity but those can be considered for a space habitat where partial gravity is a given.
Currently the following are used on the International Space Station (ISS):
  1. Velcro and bungee cords: Velcro and bungee cords are commonly used on the space station to secure equipment and keep it from floating away in microgravity. Using Velcro to secure items to the walls and bungee cords to hold items in place can save valuable space.
  2. Ziploc bags: Ziploc bags can be used to store and organize items in a microgravity environment. They can be labelled and attached to walls or stored in cabinets with elastic bands to keep them from floating around.
  3. Magnetic strips: Magnetic strips can be used to hold metal items, such as tools, in place. They can be attached to walls or the sides of cabinets to keep items organized and accessible.
  4. Foldable equipment: Foldable equipment can save space on a space station. For example, a foldable exercise bike or a collapsible table can be stored in a smaller space when not in use.
  5. Flexible storage: Flexible storage options, such as bags or pouches, can conform to irregular shapes and save space. They can be stored in cabinets or attached to walls for easy access.
  6. LED lighting: LED lighting can save space on a space station because it is thin and lightweight. It can be used for general lighting or task lighting and can be attached to walls or ceilings.
  7. Modular storage: Modular storage systems, such as the SpaceSaver and Microgravity Science Glovebox, can be customized to fit specific needs and save space. They can be attached to walls or stored in cabinets when not in use.
As the minimum space standards showed us, the design architect in Tokyo had to come up with some genius space-saving solutions in order to provide several useful living areas in one place. Some of the space-saving ideas in terrestrial use could be considered in a space habitat but not necessarily on a space station. Among these are:
  • Multipurpose furniture: Using furniture that can serve multiple functions is a great way to save space. For example, a table that can fold up and be used as a chair or a bed that can double as storage.
  • Wall storage: Utilizing wall space for storage is a smart way to save space. Installing shelves or hooks can provide additional storage space without taking up floor space.
  • Modular design: A modular design allows for flexibility and adaptability in a small space. For example, having removable walls or partitions that can be rearranged to suit changing needs.
  • Compact appliances: Downsizing appliances to their smallest possible size without sacrificing functionality is another way to save space. For example, using a compact refrigerator or a portable stove in a small kitchen.
  • Vertical space utilization: Maximizing vertical space is essential in small spaces. Utilizing high ceilings for storage, installing bunk beds, or using vertical garden walls are all examples of how to use vertical space.
  • Natural light: Creating an illusion of space can be achieved by incorporating by imitating natural light and the view of our surroundings. Using LED screens to create the visual of large windows or skylights can make a small space appear more open and airy.
  • Hidden storage: Utilizing hidden storage options, such as under-bed storage or built-in cabinets, can keep items out of sight while maximizing the use of space. 
Designing for a microgravity environment (like on a space station or spaceship) and for partial gravity (as in a space habitat established on an extraterrestrial body) is very different. In order to address the unique challenges of a microgravity environment and also consider the human factors involved, new, innovative space-saving design ideas are necessary. The traditional refrigeration system is not for microgravity but Air Squared has been developing and testing a new Fridge for space with the Whirlpool Corporation.  However, speaking of floor space and anything directional like vertical will lose meaning in free-fall. The available small space combined with microgravity requires us to look for clever space-saving ideas that would work in weightlessness. 
  • Foldable, adjustable and multifunctional furniture: stowaway beds from fabrics, elastic band chairs that can be used for working the muscles,  and foldable desks, can save space and provide a more spacious living and working environment when needed.
  • Magnetic storage: Magnetic storage systems, similar to the magnetic strips we mentioned earlier, can be used to hold items in place. By utilizing magnets instead of Velcro or bungee cords, the space can be optimized for storage while minimizing visual clutter.
  • Hidden wires and compartments: The visual clutter on the ISS is tiring for the brain and wires/cables everywhere can also be risky.
  • Modular or translucent walls: Modular walls that can be reconfigured to adapt to different needs can help optimize space and provide a sense of privacy and personal space for the crew members, while translucent walls can also do that but also create the feeling of a bigger space.
  • Transparent partitions: Transparent partitions, such as acrylic, can be used to create separate spaces while still allowing light to flow through. This can help reduce feelings of claustrophobia and increase the sense of openness and spaciousness.
By incorporating these new design ideas into a space station, it may be possible to create a more comfortable and efficient living and working environment for the crew members, while still optimizing the use of space in a microgravity environment.