Home is where the bunker, train or container is

Innovative designers are turning discarded structures and wasted space into surprisingly livable homes - with gallery.
The American architect Michael Reynolds has designed what he calls the ultimate green homes built entirely from recycled garbage. Eric Draper / AP Photo
The American architect Michael Reynolds has designed what he calls the ultimate green homes built entirely from recycled garbage. Eric Draper / AP Photo

Not every home starts as a castle. Around the world people have taken strange and downright wacky structures and turned them into bright and habitable spaces.

They may be treated as oddities. And some people may smirk at the outlandish concepts, which are far removed from traditional housing designs.

But such homes are examples of creativity and resourcefulness, as well as sustainability. The designers often use abandoned items and turn them into something useful and, in many cases, turn a profit.

Many of the concepts have grown into businesses, developed by entrepreneurs looking to provide an alternative to mundane residential developments.

But how far will people go to turn a space into a home?

Some of the projects are far off the grid - wild ideas brought into reality by the daring and ingenuity of their creators.

They challenge the concept of how people live and interact with their community.

But at the core there is always a splash of inspiration and a desire to create something tangible from scant resources. The designers take a simple idea and readily available material to build a home.

Not everybody is ready to live in a reconstituted shipping container or a cave.

But many of the creations include the full array of modern amenities and may prove more liveable than you might suspect from a first glance.

You do not always have to give up comfort to live in an offbeat home.

Try to contain yourself

Living in a big steel rectangular box sounds dreary. But cut out a few holes, add curtains and perhaps a nice scatter rug and – voila – a container can be turned into a serviceable home. Low-budget housing is a natural. In Amsterdam, containers are used for student housing. Stacking or connecting containers makes enlarging such a home easy. But several architects have expanded on the concept and used containers as the basis for ultra-modernist homes.

The ultimate green home

Stone Age retro homes come with advantages. They tend to stay warm in winter and cool in the summer. While rudimentary caves are available as rocky fixer-uppers, many offer all the modern conveniences, including water and electricity hook-ups. Natural materials make a cave the ultimate green home.

Grounded for good

First-class facilities on planes are increasingly comfortable, so perhaps it is not surprising that people have turned redundant aircraft into homes. More planes have become available as airline companies upgrade their fleets. In California, architect David Hertz bought a decommissioned Boeing 747 for £21,600 (Dh130,739) and used the dismantled parts to create a home. The wings were made into the roof, fuselage and windows were room dividers and the nose cone became a pavilion.

Tired of convention? Try tyres

The American architect Michael Reynolds has designed what he calls the ultimate green homes. His “earthships” are built entirely from recycled garbage, including aluminium cans, plastic bottles and used tyres. The homes are designed to operate completely off the grid, generating energy through solar power and wind, and to capture water from rain and snow, as well as treating sewage.

Mr Reynolds calls his design a “biotecture”. His company designs and builds the houses around the specifications of the available land. More than 1,000 earthships have been built around the world, usually based on recycled car tyres filled with dirt. An earthship costs about the same as a conventional home to construct – in other words prices can fluctuate wildly depending on how big it is. “But a conventional home does not come with all the electricity and water you will use,” according to the promotional materials on earthships.

Home in a million (dirhams, that is)

Those big barges chugging around rivers and harbours may look better suited for lugging coal and scrap iron, but many have been converted into pleasant homes. They offer the advantages of being larger than typical houseboats and are more stable in the water. They can be moved to wherever moorings are available. Boatshed London lists a 20-metre, fully equipped barge for £185,000 (Dh1.1 million).

Big enough to hold parliament

A man’s home is supposed to be his castle, but a fortified bunker left over from the Second World War or the Cold War offers a little more protection. Such bunkers dot Europe’s landscape, useless anachronisms that governments now want to unload. The property agent Carter Jonas lists a bunker built outside Glasgow capable of housing the Scottish parliament and withstanding nuclear, biological and electromagnetic attacks. The asking price: £400,000 (Dh2.42 million).

Folding beds mandatory

No space is wasted in skinny homes, which are jammed into narrow lots around the world. In some cases the homes are barely wide enough for a grown man to stand and raise his arms. That means folding beds, built-in closets and desks and kitchens designed to use every inch of space. The world’s narrowest house is 1.19 metres wide and is located on the island of Great Cumbrae in Scotland, according to GuinnessWorld Records. The world’s most famous skinny home is probably a 2.8-metre-wide townhouse in New York City, which was built in 1873. It  was once owned by the poet Edna St Vincent Millay and the tiny residence served as a home over the years for the actors Cary Grant and John Barrymore. It sold for US$2.1 million (Dh7.7m) last year. Photo: PA

Let there be light

Periodically railways sell old carriages, which creative buyers convert into long, narrow homes. The carriages are parked on lots, eliminating the glamour of travel and the clickety-clack of wheels on rails. But such railway rolling stock usually offer plenty of windows and can be easily reworked into cosy spaces.



Published: August 23, 2011 04:00 AM


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