Living in a Box | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 20.01.2006
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Living in a Box

For city dwellers, the word "loft" generally evokes sprawling, spartan space and individual yet fiercely voguish style. But in Stuttgart, a pair of bright young things have created a loft with a difference.


A comfortable little box to call home

More reminiscent of boxes than anything else, the "students' lofts," as they are officially called, are the brainchild of architecture graduates Sven Becker and Michael Sauter, and they offer an answer to the increasing problem of affordable accommodation in metropolises across Germany and, indeed, the world.

Becker and Sauter studied in the southern German city of Stuttgart, where they were no strangers to the agonies of finding remotely affordable accommodation. It was that experience, coupled with the need to come up with a convincing final-year project that led them to design and make the ultimate in compact and bijou living.


The students' lofts can be opened up to create more space

The loft is essentially an eight-square-meter (26-square-feet) box that can be opened up to generate a total of 20 square meter of living space, and can be rented on a short to medium-term basis without breaking the bank. But that's not the best of it. "We saw that, while on the one hand there was a serious shortage of student accommodation, cities like Stuttgart also have a lot of empty office space, which could be put to use," Michael Sauter said.

And they propose doing precisely that by installing their boxes inside large empty commercial spaces, thus creating small self-contained student communities. Each one would comprise between 10 and 15 individual boxes, and for every four units, there would be a communal kitchen area and bathroom. "Just like in a regular shared apartment," said Sauter, who proposes turning any left-over shared space into fitness zones and Internet pools.

Big hit

Since going public with their boxes, which would retail at a cost of between 7,500 and 10,000 euros ($9,000 - $12,000) Becker and Sauter have been swamped with requests, and are discussing supplying them for soccer fans during the World Cup, as youth hotels, artists' studios or even student villages in Turkey.

"The beauty of this concept is the flexibility. We will do the floors and paint the walls of the buildings into which the boxes are to be installed. And then, if, after a certain period of time, the accommodation is no longer needed, the boxes can be moved out again and the space can be put to another use.


Inside Werner Aisslinger's Loftcube

That kind of adaptability is what makes such alternative living concepts so popular. Another German architect and designer, Werner Aisslinger, came up with the novel idea of creating spacious "Loftcubes," which could be installed pretty much anywhere, including on top of apartment buildings. Although less of a bargain than Becker and Sauter's innovation, the cubes promise their inhabitants unrivalled views at prices that wouldn't buy so much as a corner of a basement in cities such as London, Paris or New York.

Little luxuries

Meanwhile, back on the ground, Munich-based architects John Höpfner and Lydia Haack took on a commission from the city's university to produce a series of "micro compact homes," which principally differ from the Stuttgart lofts in that they are designed for the great outdoors. Although they too, are viewed as a solution to student housing difficulties, they have a multitude of possible uses.

micro compact home

A rural setting for these futuristic, temporary homes

"They can be used as guest apartments or for accommodation at large events; we have had interest from hotels and from wellness centers in the countryside. And of course they are interesting for students, because the universities can rent a piece of ground for a few years, erect the houses, and then once the lease has run out, move the accommodation on to somewhere else," Höpfner said.

micro compact home’

The slick interior of the "micro compact homes"

The "micro compact homes" are in a slightly different league to their indoor competitors, and carry a price tag of 35,000 euros a pop. But you get what you pay for. This model of versatile, modular home comes equipped with a 120-centimeter (47-inch) wide bed, its own kitchen area, toilet and shower, gas, electricity, telephone and Internet connection. Höpfner says the seven homes currently in use in Munich have so far proved a big hit among their student inhabitants, who enjoy the design, the proximity to nature and the flexibility of the living area. "The space is used in a clever way. Things can be moved around, but they don't have to be. To use the bed, for example, you don't have to put anything away or fold anything out." he said. "The homes don't feel claustrophobic, but are like quite tight suits. They fit but they don't pinch."

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