In Berlin, a village of impossibly petite mobile 'homes'
For Berlin's BMW Guggenheim Lab, furniture designer Van Bo Le-Mentzel and artist Corinne Rose unveil the One-Sqm-House, a wooden shelter on wheels that makes other tiny homes look palatial in comparison.
The concept was developed by the duo for the BMW Guggenheim Lab's five-week residency in Berlin that's wrapping up at the end of this month. If you're unfamiliar with the BMW Guggenheim Lab, it can best be described as a "mobile laboratory traveling around the world to inspire innovative ideas for urban life." Over a six-year span, the lab will travel to nine cities. New York City was the Lab's first stop back in August 2011, and after things wrap up in Berlin, the lab will appear in Mumbai at some point later this year, concluding the first two-year cycle revolving around the theme of “Confronting Comfort.”
But back to the One-Sqm-House. In a small-sized giant upset, it looks like Le-Mentzel and Rose’s coffin with a window, mattress, and a pitched roof creation has dethroned the Tumbleweed XS House as the world’s most claustrophobia-inducing residence. And, yes, true to its name, the wheeled wooden structure that's "ideal for Occupy activists" but can also be used as an "open-space office, as a phone booth, or as an extended guest room in your apartment," truly does have 1-square-meter in floor space (a little less than 11 square feet of space).
In its upright position, the structure resembles a cute little lemonade stand and comes complete with a lockable slide-door, window and a chair. It's perfect for sitting and standing (provided that you’re less than 6 feet tall) and that’s about it. The BMW Guggenheim Lab also suggests using the space as a confessional box or meditation space.
Need a nap? The structure can also be turned on its side thanks to a "flipping mechanism" and converted into a cozy little sleeping chamber. And given that the One-Sqm-House is portable and relatively lightweight at a little less than 90 pounds, you can haul it around with you when you desire a change of scenery, no trailer hitch required. According to One-Sqm-House’s Airbnb rental page (more on that in a bit), the structure can be squeezed through most doors, elevators, and can even be transported on the Berlin U-Bahn. Versatile!
As you've probably gathered by now, unlike the Tumbleweed XS and other Lilliputian residences of note, the One-Sqm-House was conceived more as a reaction to the current state of housing in cities — remember, the current theme of the BMW Guggenheim Lab is "Confronting Comfort" — and not as a functional living space. It was also designed to reflect Le-Mentzel’s own transient childhood experiences as a Laotian refuge living in Germany.
What I’ve always been very skeptical of is the fact that our quality of life is so fixed to numbers. On euros, for example, and euros per square meter. When you look for an apartment, for example, the first thing you look at is the location, and then at the numbers — how many rooms, how many square meters? But when you really think about it, the square meters say nothing about the quality of the apartment, about the view from the window, how it smells, if the neighbors are nice. These are all things that you can’t put into numbers.
So I said, okay, I want to have my own square meter. I want that no one other than I, myself, can decide what happens with this one square meter of mine in the world. It’s the only square meter in the world where I can decide what direction the window looks in, what direction the door opens in, what neighbors I have.
It really strikes me how none of us can live where we want to live anymore. In the last few years, the rents have become so expensive that friends of mine can’t find apartments anymore. Eight years ago, that was completely different. We’ve lost our Berlin. The idea was to have it as a symbol for the fact that today one square meter is in such high demand, it’s expensive, and so many people are being displaced. They can’t have their one square meter where they want it anymore.
Last weekend, the BMW Guggenheim Lab invited Berliners to join Le-Mentzel and Rose in the building of an entire village of One-Sqm-Houses as part of an all-day DIY workshop open to the public. For those who ready to brandish a cordless screwdriver but unable able to fork over the €250 for building materials, the organizers proposed an intriguing “karma deal”: leave your completed structure behind so that it can be rented out until the end of the Lab’s Berlin run. After that, you can return and fetch your One-Sqm-Home and use it as you see fit.
So yes indeed, one can actually spend the night in a One-Sqm-House constructed during the recent DIY build-a-thon via Airbnb through July 29. The price for such non-spacious accommodations? A reasonable €1 a night (due to Airbnb’s online booking policy, interested parties are actually charged €10 but reimbursed the difference in cash).
The rental One-Sqm-Houses are situated on the grounds of the BMW Guggenheim Lab’s temporary home in the lovely Prenzlauer Berg quarter near the Senefelder Platz metro station. The rental charge also grants overnight lodgers — “a perfect stay for artists, rebellists, occupy activists, adventurers, students, poor, homeless” — access to the nearby and much-praised EastSeven Hostel where they can store their luggage or use the facilities. A One-Sqm-House can also be parked in the hostel's garden in the event of inclement weather. The Airbnb page makes it abundantly clear that a One-Sqm-House does not have a bathroom and that guests should bring their own sleeping bag. And although the folks at BMW Guggenheim Lab do encourage renters to take full advantage of One-Sqm-House’s mobile nature, they don't suggest taking it with you on the metro. That's just asking for trouble.
Beyond Berlin, Le-Mentzel and Rose are hoping to bring the One-Sqm-House concept to other cities across the world, Mumbai and New York City in particular (see why I don’t want Bloomberg to catch wind of this?). They strongly encourage urbanites inspired by the BMW Guggenheim Lab workshop in Berlin to build their very own One-Sqm-House-inspired mobile DIY structures and document the process.
“A dream would be to have a type of ‘village’ of One-Sqm-Houses spring up from the ground, but not like a normal village in one place, rather dispersed throughout the entire world,” says Rose.
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