house moving

Downmarketly Mobile

It’s always been the case that wealthy people own a number of houses or apartments in various places around the world and spend time in them according to the season or whim. Some don’t even use them – they just like to know they could and high-end apartments in Western capitals suit them quite nicely.

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People of lesser wealth might have a vacation house in another country or perhaps a summer weekend house in the countryside. Timeshare ownership of property in other countries and the relative ease of travel have made living across properties, climates, cultures and landscapes more accessible to more people.

Co-living in any city in the world for a fixed monthy subscription is a development of this trend and makes this type of living more accessible to more people. Typologically, it’s what Youth Hostels Association (YHA) has been offering for decades to student travellers albeit not in a joined-up way around the world.

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So hats’ off to ROAM for identifying an existing type of residential use and marketing it as a value-added form of co-living. “Sign one lease, live around the world.” They have some decent endorsements.

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ROAM is a network of global communal living spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a co-working space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community.

It sounds very attractive, better than some places I’ve called home over the years, not to mention the clean sheets and towels.

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This angle – for it is an angle if generic functionality is being remarketed for the same purpose it always was – circumvents the argument that co-living implies student living. It doesn’t. The “Learn by living somewhere different” suggests gap years for all but the claim you can “be productive the moment you arrive” implies a new attitude to moving around – you take your work with you but the hardware remains the same. A single system of tenure spanning different locations is what’s new. In principle, there’s no reason why a similar system couldn’t be applied across multiple properties in the same city.

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In principle. If such a system were applied within countries or cities, it would be abused by people refusing to move on and make room for others. To discourage this, the price point has to be more expensive than conventional tenancies for the medium term, and cheaper than conventional hotels for the short term. So far, the best suggestion has been to add a surcharge for ‘expensive’ cities such as New York and London but this only fuels the strong suspicion that co-housing is hotels in disguise. It is in some cases, but the disguise is what’s at fault, not the living in hotels.

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It’s not that living in houses has become unattractive, it’s just that the likelihood of ever owning one is slipping away.

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Now that owning property is less likely, it’s difficult to know whether any forthcoming ideas will be visionary solutions, expedient workarounds, or simply a race to the bottom with new methods for the old exploitation. Permanent ownership of fixed houses is a burden if people have to relocate, and relocating across town, the country or the planet for employment is already a fact of life. The idea of mobile living crops up periodically but never actually comes about.

Here it is again, this time called Kasita. 320 sq.ft.

This Forbes article suggests it’s what you’d get if you crossed an Airstream with microhousing and parked it in an automated parking garage. Not unlike this by Glen Howard Small (1977-1980)

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crossed with a bit of the following.

This can’t be economically sensible since the structure for stacking and the structure for enclosure and integrity are different. Shipping containers have a single structure for both because they’re designed from the outset to be stacked. This means structural redundancy if there aren’t eight or nine stacked above it  but different configurations at different times shift that redundancy to other containers. You can’t have it both ways.

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It’s thus a good idea for a dwelling to have an optimised, dual-purpose structure. In the past, demountable and transportable houses delivered by helicopter or off a truck implied permanent ownership or long-term tenancy of land and were solutions to the expense of mobilizing construction labour rather than any direct amenity gained from the mobility itself. The house was moved to some new location and connected to utilities.

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Transportable homes are another variation. This company will either sell you a house or you can rent it by the week. Either way, they’ll deliver it to your property and all you have to do is connect it to utilities. This is their open plan studio for NZ$40K (US$31K).

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Their two-bedroom w/pergola is looking good.

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The loftcube did the circuit not too long ago. Same idea, but with added architecture and pretence.

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Here’s the Eco-Capsule, with updated design affectations and added eco-stuff.

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All these designs are transportable homes. With the new Kasita development, you buy and have your pre-designed pod transported to some property and connected to utilities including wifi [which is somewhat perverse, given what wireless is]. The difference is that the property is now stacked. It’s a Dom-ino house where the entire house is now freed from the tyranny of structure. The innovation bit is that the house can move with you but it’s not clear why you should want it to if they’re all identical. You can think of this as as freedom from packing and unpacking your suitcase, or perhaps as travelling inside your suitcase and living in it when you get there.

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Mobile homes, on the other hand, aren’t designed to be stacked. Their dual structure for enclosure and self-support has no structural redundancy and can therefore be optimised. Mobile homes are not designed to remain in the same location forever and so have wheels to enable towing from place to place. This becomes redundant mobility when used as permanent housing.

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Unsurprisingly, mobile homes imply temporary homes and, as such, don’t articulate the possession of land that is one of the fundamental and historical concerns of architecture. This is more than a simple problem of language. It’s a matter of historically ingrained prejudice. The mobility of mobile homes is something to be ashamed of and disguised when they are used as permanent housing.

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Yet, the wheels and mobility of micro houses are flaunted when they are used for recreational/unnecessary housing. This is what you get when you cross a trailer with a tiny house.

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Both types of structure are the same animal but, in the first situation we have actual housing with its mobility disguised whereas, in the second, we have a vehicle representing housing and its mobility flaunted. The fact nobody questions the right of mobile tiny houses to be called tiny houses suggests our perception of mobility is changing faster than our notions of ownership and tenure.

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Grouping tiny mobile houses around shared facilities is even seen as attractive and novel if they are rented out as hotel rooms. In this next image we see the gentrification of gypsy caravans and hobo fire barrels. Not a problem.

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As usual, architecture always moves in the direction opposite that of greater utility. It’s up to people to invent new ways of living and these naturally collide with existing regulatory frameworks, as they did with Dignity Village and other spontaneous tiny home settlements.

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Here’s another idea borne out of necessity.

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This initiative brings together tiny houses and a mobile lifestyle. We might just be looking at a new way to live.

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The only thing architecture can do is give representation to the shared amenity bits, as is already happening in this recent masterplan for Nanjing in China,

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or these two high-rise developments.

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