Ar­chi­tects, refugees team up on tiny houses in Berlin

The vi­sion be­hind the ini­tia­tive is to pro­vide low earn­ers a com­mu­nity liv­ing

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Hui Min Neo

The trend emerged sev­eral years ago, largely in the US as peo­ple chose to down­size their liv­ing space out of en­vi­ron­men­tal or fi­nan­cial concerns

Trou­bled to see a long queue of asy­lum seek­ers shiv­er­ing for hours on a win­ter’s day out­side Berlin’s no­to­ri­ously chaotic regis­tra­tion cen­tre, Van Bo LeMentzel de­cided to take ac­tion.

“I fetched my drill and col­lected some wood that I found ran­domly in the streets and brought it to the line where peo­ple were stand­ing there bored to death and we just started build­ing,” the ar­chi­tect told AFP.

The end prod­ucts were pint­sized play­houses that chil­dren could crawl into for shel­ter as well as break up the monotony of the end­less wait.

It also marked the birth of the so-called Tiny House Univer­sity, a project bring­ing to­gether ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers and refugees to ex­per­i­ment with in­no­va­tive ways to house a pop­u­la­tion in need.

“We are try­ing to cre­ate new kinds of hous­ing forms in so­ci­ety in which it’s pos­si­ble to live and sur­vive with­out hav­ing land or money,” said Le-Mentzel.

The tiny house trend emerged sev­eral years ago, largely in the US as peo­ple chose to down­size their liv­ing space out of en­vi­ron­men­tal or fi­nan­cial concerns.

In Berlin, it has been given a twist for con­tem­po­rary needs.

For a start, Le-Mentzel’s team which in­cludes six refugees, is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Bauhaus Archiv to build 20 tiny houses oc­cu­py­ing 10sqm each.

To­gether, the houses will form a tem­po­rary vil­lage on ex­hi­bi­tion un­til March 2018.

Some will serve as lodg­ing, while oth­ers are des­tined to be a li­brary, café, work­shop or com­mu­nity cen­tre.

Each build­ing is fit­ted on wheels - which Le-Mentzel said means they can be parked on pub­lic streets as a form of trailer.

“In Berlin we have 1.5mn cars regis­tered and they are all stand­ing in the streets overnight, not in use. Each car is about 10sqm,” noted Le-Mentzel.

“So I’m ask­ing what would hap­pen if we just re­place th­ese 1.5mn cars with tiny houses or with mo­bile play­grounds for chil­dren or with open spa­ces where neigh­bours can cook to­gether, eat to­gether, find com­pany to­gether, where refugees can cre­ate a start-up in the streets - open­ing a restau­rant, (giv­ing) a hair­cut.”

Mi­cro­cosm of so­ci­ety

Like metropoli­tan cities world­wide, prop­erty prices in Berlin have shot up as the city shed its Cold War di­vided past to be­come a tourism and party hotspot, as well as an in­vest­ment mag­net.

Although new build­ings are mush­room­ing across the cap­i­tal, refugees and low-in­come lo­cals are find­ing them­selves priced out.

Le-Mentzel views his Tiny100 as a pro­to­type for small apart­ments which can be let out for € 100 a month to low earn­ers.

His ul­ti­mate goal is to fit out a build­ing not only with reg­u­lar­sized apart­ments, but also such com­pact homes, al­low­ing the ‘rich and poor, stu­dents and entrepreneurs’ to live to­gether.

“It will be a house that mir­rors so­ci­ety,” he said, ad­ding that talks are on­go­ing with ‘three or four in­vestors’ about mak­ing his dream come true.

“But we are at the be­gin­ning of the process.”

Ali Fadi, a Kur­dish refugee from Syria, has not thought that far to hav­ing his own tiny apart­ment.

The 33 year old is sim­ply rev­el­ling at be­ing able to prac­tise his trade. Fadi is an ex­pe­ri­enced car­pen­ter, but had found him­self shut out of the Ger­man job mar­ket be­cause he lacked the pa­per qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Mea­sur­ing a piece of wood be­fore saw­ing it off for the tiny house that would house a café, Fadi said he hopes that his work in the project would help over­come the bu­reau­cratic barrier.

“I hope I can get a job do­ing this,” said Fadi.

Party for 13 in 6sqm

At a ware­house area in southern Berlin, an­other mem­ber of the team, Noam Goldstein, is fit­ting in­su­la­tion into one of the 20 tiny houses.

His ver­sion of the small home would fea­ture not just the usual trap­pings of an apart­ment, but also in­clude so­lar pan­els, a com­post toi­let and a hy­dro­pon­ics gar­den.

The car­pen­ter ex­pects mate- rial cost for the house to run be­tween € 12,000 and € 15,000.

While some com­po­nents like win­dows have to be pur­chased, Goldstein said much of the wood used is re­cy­cled pal­let wood.

“When you look at the fi­nan­cial as­pect, it pro­vides a very cheap way for peo­ple to build their own house,” said Goldstein.

Re­searcher Amelie Salameh, who was among the ini­tial ones to try out the first of the 20 tiny houses overnight, is a con­vert.

Mea­sur­ing just 6sqm, the first tiny house built by LeMentzel him­self for the project is a self-con­tained unit with a liv­ing room, kitchen, sleep­ing area, toi­let and shower.

“The way it was de­signed, there were mir­rors, a lot of light, I never felt trapped in­side,” said Salameh, who lived in the house called Tiny100 for three weeks.

She even had two friends sleep over for a night, and once also hosted a visit of 13 peo­ple. “You just have to think about where you’re putting your stuff, and to tidy up con­stantly, be­cause the place gets full quickly.”

The Tiny100 will be a house that mir­rors so­ci­ety. But we are at the be­gin­ning of the process

Van Bo Le-Mentzel


The Tiny Houses Project’s con­struc­tion site, with a café (left) cur­rently be­ing built as well as a small house (right), is seen at the Bauhaus Ar­chive Mu­seum of De­sign, in Berlin

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