The Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture has collaborated with the United Nations' Environment and Habitat programs, as well as Gray Organschi Architecture, to design a prototype tiny house. Named the Ecological Living Module (ELM), it's an interesting dwelling that produces its own power, water, and food.

The ELM is mostly constructed from wood and other recyclable materials, and can be packed up and moved by truck relatively easily if required. Its exterior walls have integrated planters for growing fruit and vegetables, and it's also topped by a skylight.

Inside, the home comprises a floorspace of 22 sq m (236 sq ft) and is rated to sleep up to four people, though that looks like a bit of a squeeze – two seems much more sensible. It contains a sofa bed, kitchenette, dining area, storage space, and a bathroom with shower and composting toilet. A sleeping loft is reached by steps. The finish is simple and utilitarian, but this belies the high-tech gear that's installed.

A roof-based solar panel array is hooked up to batteries and an inverter to provide a sustainable source of electricity. Rainwater is collected and filtered, and there's also a greywater tank and irrigation system for watering the greenery on the facade. A monitoring system ensures the solar panels and related tech are performing efficiently too.

Adding to its flexibility, the ELM can be turned into a very rudimentary store by altering the front porch to create a countertop.

It's all good food for thought, but don't expect people to be living in one of these anytime soon. The main impetus behind the project is to spark debate on the future of housing and encourage innovation in greener building.

"We clearly need more housing, but the key thing is that we also need smarter housing," says UN Environment Head, Erik Solheim. "The housing sector uses 40 percent of the planet's total resources and represents more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. So making them more efficient will benefit everyone, and it'll mean lower bills too. Innovations like the Ecological Living Module are what we need more of."

As of writing, the ELM is on display at the UN Plaza in New York City. The model shown is designed with New York's climate in mind but future iterations will be tailored for other areas, including Kenya, which is the home of UN Environment.

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