Wed, Aug 09, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Tiny residences, libraries and cafes

Architects, refugees team up to build a ‘microvillage’ in Berlin in a project that explores innovative ways for compact and affordable living

AFP, Berlin

Ali Fadi, Kurdish Syrian refugee and construction worker, is pictured on the Tiny Houses Project`s construction site at the Bauhaus Archive Museum of Design.

Photo: AFP

Troubled to see a long queue of asylum seekers shivering for hours on a winter’s day outside Berlin’s notoriously chaotic registration center, Van Bo Le-Mentzel 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 says.

The end products were pint-sized 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 10 square meters 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, cafe, workshop or community center.

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 1.5 million cars registered and they are all standing in the streets overnight, not in use. Each car is about 10 square meters,” noted Le-Mentzel.

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


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 builds 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 about NT$3,500 a month to low earners.

His ultimate goal is to fit out a building not only with regular-sized 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 reveling at being able to practice 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 cafe, Fadi said he hopes that his work in the project would help overcome the bureaucratic barrier.

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