Just how small is the smallest place you’ve ever spent the night?
As of last weekend, my answer to that question is “one square meter.” Don’t believe me? The proof is in the slide show above. Not only that: You can do it too—so listen up.
The “One-Sqm-House” is the brainchild of Van Bo Le-Mentzel, a long-time Berlin resident, architect, and founder of Hartz IV Möbel. When he was a child, Le-Mentzel fled with his family to Germany as refugees from their home country of Laos. He spent much of his life moving around, dependent on social subsidies and social housing. So for Le-Mentzel, the concept of “home” and where you are “at home” has always been a very central question.
Recently, he had an audacious idea: he wanted to build a house that he could bring with him, that he could put anywhere he wanted, any time he wanted, and call it home. It didn’t need to be big. Just one square meter would do. He calls it “one square meter of freedom.”
“What I’ve always been very skeptical of is the fact that our quality of life is so fixed to numbers. On euros, for example, and euros per square meter. When you look for an apartment, for example, the first thing you look at is the location, and then at the numbers—how many rooms, how many square meters? But when you really think about it, the square meters say nothing about the quality of the apartment, about the view from the window, how it smells, if the neighbors are nice. These are all things that you can’t put into numbers,” he says.
“So I said, okay, I want to have my own square meter. I want that no one other than I, myself, can decide what happens with this one square meter of mine in the world. It’s the only square meter in the world where I can decide what direction the window looks in, what direction the door opens in, what neighbors I have.”
When Berlin-based Lab Team member Corinne Rose met Le-Menztel several months ago and heard his idea, something clicked. For Corinne, it was the perfect artistic, philosophical, and physical intervention to address an issue central to much of her programming at the Lab.
“It really strikes me how none of us can live where we want to live anymore. In the last few years, the rents have become so expensive that friends of mine can’t find apartments anymore. Eight years ago, that was completely different. We’ve lost our Berlin,” she says. “The idea was to have it as a symbol for the fact that today one square meter is in such high demand, it’s expensive, and so many people are being displaced. They can’t have their one square meter where they want it anymore.”
On Sunday, July 8, Corinne and Le-Menztel are teaming up to bring as many One-Sqm-Houses to the streets of Berlin as possible. They’re inviting city-dwellers to take part in an all-day workshop to build their own one square meter of freedom. The house takes one day, and 250 Euros in materials, to construct.
For those who may not be able to afford the supplies, they’re offering a karma deal: you build a house, and then rent it out to the Lab for free. The Lab will then host people with low income (students, artists, travelers, those who are homeless) to stay in Berlin in your One-Sqm-House for the remainder of the Lab’s duration (until July 29), for one Euro per night. (This is the real deal. Interested renters can make their reservations via Air B+B ) After July 29, you can pick up your house and take over from there.
For those considering a stay in the One-Sqm-House, I can personally testify that these structures are perfectly sleep-worthy. Upright, they make for a cozy little mobile office or shop. Laid on their side they provide, perhaps not five-star accommodation, but close enough when it comes to value per, well, square meter.
Corinne and Le-Menztel don’t want the One-Sqm-House intervention to stop at the borders of Berlin. “A dream would be to have a type of ‘village’ of One-Sqm-Houses spring up from the ground, but not like a normal village in one place, rather dispersed throughout the entire world,” Corinne says. It would be fascinating, she says, to use the project as an exploration of what one square meter of freedom means in different cities and different contexts.
So she and Le-Mentzel are putting out a call for partners around the world to join them in launching the One-Sqm-House movement: to build a One-Sqm-House in their own respective cities, and document the story. At the very least, Corinne says, she wants to find partners in New York and Mumbai—the two other cities that the Lab has visited and will visit in the first cycle of its six-year world tour.
Where did I put my one square meter of freedom? Naturally, I set it down in the one place in Berlin where I spend enough time that it’s practically become my home away from home: the Lab.
Sign up now for Corinne and Le-Menztel’s workshop. You can come for free to help build, and learn to construct a One-Sqm-House; or you can build your own to take away with you that night right then and there for 250 Euros; or take part in the karma deal I mentioned above. And if you or anyone you know (hint, hint: that includes your Twitter followers and Facebook friends!) wants to help make Corinne and Le-Mentzel’s dream of a global One-Sqm-House village a reality and build and document a house in your own city, contact Van Bo Le-Menztel at email@example.com.
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Photos: by Maria Nicanor