For many people, the home is a symbol of permanence and the physical expression of stability and security. For others, there is less of an aspiration to put down roots and rather a desire to explore the natural environment – to travel, adapt and change living conditions with ease. This gives rise to small, flexible and moveable structures for the urban nomad.Adopting a nomadic lifestyle can be voluntary or it can be a radical response to housing shortages and a rejection of typical property ownership models. The growth of cities and suburbs is beginning to make many people question the most ideal way of living and there is a growing interest in unconventional forms of domestic design. Mobile and modular housing looks to satisfy such demands and has given rise to some quirky and resourceful forms of nomadic architecture.On the other end of the scale, nomadic architecture has the opportunity to address a mode of housing for the less fortunate – those who are homeless or driven from their homes due to war or natural disaster. In this regard, nomadic people have always been forced to re-invent themselves, to defend their culture and to struggle to survive.The following collection of projects redefine the meaning of home and they prove that the nomadic spirit of our hunter-gatherer ancestors is very much alive in the modern world. When life is not concentrated in one location, nomadic architecture proposes new living typologies that involve transforming the way we rest, cook, work and exist on the go. Let’s take a journey through some of these ingenious structures, shall we?
Designer Fernando Abellnas has installed this studio beneath an overpass bridge in Valencia, Spain, but he prefers not to divulge its exact location in the city. This tiny, moveable dwelling is conceived as a refuge in the city which embraces an urban and industrial setting. To access the suspended structure, Abellnas uses a hand crank that transports the entire structure along two metal rails. Shelving, which contains picture frames and other personal mementos, has been directly attached to the bridge, while a desk, chair and cushions make the urban shelter more comfortable for longer stays.“I feel a great attraction for this type of place and sometimes I make interventions in them. I depend a lot on the conditions offered by the place,” says Abellnas.“It is a personal intervention that tries to put value in these type of spaces. It is also about recovering those sensations of the huts we used to make as small ones. To stay isolated but at the same time close to our house, the city.” This is certainly an interesting living proposition that could probably work for you if you can get over any fear of heights and exposure to the elements.
Minima Moralia by Tomaso Boano and Jonas Prišmontas is a manifesto and social commentary combined in one installation. The project references Minima Moralia by Theodor Adorno 1951 and investigates the current living conditions in the city of London. It is a social experiment that promotes human interaction and interconnection between private spaces and public use.The small studio is a programmatic vision for London’s backyards and interstitial spaces and is intended to be inhabited by designers, sculptors, painters, musicians and other creatives. Workshop and live/work studio spaces have the potential of creating new typologies for creative communities that would pop up in unused public or private spaces around the city. its structure is made of a modular steel frame that creates an empty grid with multiple internal configurations. Add on shelves, desks, artificial lights, and curtains can be provided to meet the user’s needs.
Basic House by Martin Azua may look like a gold floating minimalist art piece but it’s an inhabitable volume that is “foldable, inflatable and reversible.” The experimental prototype challenges the idea of homeownership, presenting an alternative to the materialistic reality of today. The Basic House is made from metalised polyester and is able to fold down to fit in your pocket, “allowing you to break away from the imprisonment of material ties.” Driven by the idea of a basic and reasonable housing typology, Azua “came up with an almost immaterial house that self inflates with body heat or from the heat of the sun; so simple and versatile that it protects us from the cold and from the heat when reversed. Ideal for a life on the move without material ties. Having everything without having almost anything.”
Grooming Retreat by Gartnerfuglen & Mariana de Delasv is a thoughtful structure that rises up form a barley field in Mallorca, Spain. The timber platform was the “dream” request of a woman who had moved back to her hometown in the south of the Spanish island. “She asked for a space for grooming, contemplation and delicacy,” explained the architects, who worked with makers from India, Russia and Canada, as well as their home countries to realise the structure.Surrounded by bushland and wild olive trees, the structure grants a panoramic view of the Mediterranean sea, senses at the horizon the lush island of Cabrera. The space occupies a 3×3m footprint, whereby the timber frame elevates the cocoon to achieve exclusive views, whilst giving a sense of containment and translucent privacy for the user. Layers of white netting are interlaced throughout the frame, achieving varying opacities for each specific use. This wonderfully contemplative space is at home with its setting but could potentially be moved to evolve with the needs of the user.
Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation’s Fugitive Structures Programme is part of an ongoing exploration of temporary pavilions located in an urban context. Shown here is Sway Prototype – an audacious ecological structure inspired by Israel’s use of scientifically calibrated fabric greenhouses which promote the growth of fruit and vegetables in a predominantly arid landscape. Sway fills the gallery’s Zen Garden and has been created by Tel Aviv-based architectural collective Sack and Reicher + Muller with fabric expert Eyal Zur (SRMZ).The pavilion references Sukkot, an annual festival commemorating the Old Testament story of the Israelites sheltering in the wilderness en route to ‘The Promised Land’. Sway conjures up an impermanent fabric structure that owes as much to modernity with its use of high-tech materials as it does to the familiar shapes of nomadic Bedouin tents.
SOS (Save Our Souls) by Achilleas Souras and MOROSO used hundreds of discarded life jackets to assemble an igloo-shaped structure for Moroso’s installation at this year’s Milan Design Week. The very impressive 16-year-old artist collected used jackets from the shores of Lesbos – the Greek island that has become a regular landing place for refugees entering Europe.Souras cut and folded the jackets to resemble blocks of ice before assembling them together. The resulting waterproof structure is intended as both a shelter and a welcome point for arriving migrants. Souras feels strongly about the recent refugee crisis and urges us to consider that every jacket represents a human life. “The refugees, the homeless, and the less privileged cannot be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ anymore,” says Souras. “These are global issues that affect us all, and we must try to solve them for everyone’s sake.”
Abeer Seikaly’s conceptual emergency shelter Weaving a home is a collapsible structural fabric shelter can adapt to various climates, while also providing the comforts of contemporary life such as heat, running water, and electricity. Composed of high-strength plastic tubing moulded into sine-wave curves and woven into a stretchable fabric membrane, the system creates “a technical, structural fabric that expands to enclose and contracts for mobility.” Due to the cellular nature of the structure, individual segments of the system can be left open to create doorways or to promote air circulation in warm weather, or all of the segments can be kept closed to retain heat in the winter.The shelter is intended to aid refugees fleeing political unrest or natural disaster. As Seikaly notes in her description of the project, “Refugees carry from their homes what they can and resettle in unknown lands, often starting with nothing but a tent to call home… In this space, the refugees find a place to pause from their turbulent worlds, a place to weave the tapestry of their new lives.”
Jero Flat Pack Yurt by Trakke and Uula Jero is designed for easy transport befitting of a nomadic lifestyle. The marine grade plywood yurt is four meters wide but packs down to a one square meter space. With the help of three people, the structure can be assembled tool-free, in less than two hours. CNC fabrication techniques are utilised in manufacturing, allowing the complex shapes to be cut out with very little waste and without compromising on structural integrity. Jero currently has one of the modern yurts in a field at the back of his home, which he uses as an off-grid living retreat.
The Looper by Nomadic Resorts are prefabricated pod dwellings that can be used in a variety of climates and conditions. The low-impact shelter incorporates a wastewater treatment system and it’s powered by renewable energy. The nomadic dwelling is perfect for jungles, mountains, or beaches, and it can move from one exotic location to the next without disturbing the land it settles upon.The mobile pod is made from a lightweight tensile fabric stretched over a sustainably sourced wooden frame. The structure’s shape was inspired by the form of caterpillars – it’s made up of segments that fold out to create a curvilinear structure. Fit with all the necessities, each pod includes a bathroom, a large changing room, an air-conditioned sleeping area, a small office with Wifi (!), and an indoor/outdoor lounge complete with entertainment system. Sounds ideal!
Emmy Polkamp’s Nomadic Hotel is made up of tents that can be used to create accommodation in abandoned structures. The “travelling hotel” tents are designed as a resting place for festival-goers or visitors to events, offering single or double rooms that can be set up inside disused buildings. Polkamp created the concept to raise awareness of empty buildings and provide an alternative to traditional hotel accommodation. “Then the idea for a hotel that travels from one spot to the other popped up in my mind. Because you don’t have to stay in one city with your hotel, you can re-use empty buildings and give them a new purpose instead of having them empty,” says Polkamp.
Tricycle House by People’s Architecture Office (PAO) and People’s Industrial Design Office (PIDO) was part of the 2012 Get it Louder Exhibition, a biennial exhibition in China that explored the theme: The People’s Future. Tricycle House addresses the difficulty in owning land in China and suggests a future where there is a temporary and transient relationship with the land that people occupy. The idea is that through this design, single family homes can be affordable and sustainable.The Tricycle House is man powered allowing off-the-grid living. Facilities in the house include a sink and stove, a bathtub, a water tank, and furniture that can transform from a bed to a dining table and bench to a bench and counter top. The sink, stove, and bathtub can collapse into the front wall of the house. The Tricycle Garden which is partnered with the house, can be planted with grass, trees, vegetables etc and several gardens can be combined to form a large public green space.The structure experiments with folded plastic construction using CNC fabrication. According to the architects “The plastic we use, polypropylene, is unique in that it can be folded without losing its strength. The house itself can therefore entirely open up to the outside, expand out like an accordion to increase space, and connect to other houses.”
Carnival workers and circus performers are quintessential nomads who move from city to city. They are often loaded with trailers, caravans and large tents to transport their act. Two acrobats Jeni Barnard and Barney White from the Acrojou Circus have created a circular modular home called The Wheel House that draws upon elements of navigation, personal relationship, and whimsical architecture. The Wheel house literally rolls to each destination by the pair who use ropes and incredible physical skill to propel the vehicle. The design modifies a German Wheel and includes all the necessities for their adventure. “Outfitted with doors, windows, kitchen accessories, and a bed, The Wheel House exists in a topsy-turvy state of perpetual motion.”
Water Bed by Daniel Durnin is a minimalist shelter that lets you reconnect with nature in an unexpected way. The floating nomadic structure serves as a type of sustainable localised micro-tourism that combines the convenience of a hostel with the mobility of a tent. Users could comfortably camp on urban rivers as short-term accommodation. The compact Water Bed embraces the outdoors with large operable windows and is set on wheels so that it can be easily towed with a bicycle. Durnin drew on his own experiences of living on a narrow boat to design and build the wooden Water Bed. “I hope that the work will reawaken our connection with nature using the waterways as a catalyst and restore balance to the more networked living space that we now inhabit, not just in London but across the globe.”
Tentsile Tree Tent allows you to hide away in the canopy of the tree tops. These are a collection of ‘portable treehouses’ that are perfect for camping trips. The tensile structure bridges the gap between an outdoor habitable unit and an elementary hammock. The tents have cover screens that can easily shield against insects, animals and elements while the reinforced floors are strengthened by the tensile force when tautly suspended between the tree trunks.