The Mobile Homeless Shelter Of The Future

These “instant houses” aren’t just for people without a place to sleep. They’re for a future in which city dwellers want the smallest and most mobile houses possible.

Winfried Baumann’s creations look like some sort of art joke. Over the past 13 years, the German artist has affixed solar panels and laptop trays to shopping carts, stuffed padded mattresses in what appear to be hot dog carts, and created what can only be described as a suitcase for your body. But these aren’t any sort of parody: Built in response to a set of real needs for those living on the street, Baumann’s “Instant Housing” pieces imagine a future in which those who want to can comfortably live nomadic urban lifestyles, with as much as possible packed in as little space as necessary.


Later this year, Baumann will be publishing a collection of these efforts in a book, appropriately called Urban Nomads. Recognizing that many people, homeless or nomadic or other, choose to stay out of formal shelter systems, Baumann began designing tiny, temporary housing systems that could be packed up and carried around. He replaced cardboard and newspaper mats with aluminum and PVC, then added first aid kits, whistles, multi-tools, and flashlights inside.

“WBF 240-Luxury, Wohnbehälter mit Luxusausstattung,” © Winfried Baumann. Photo: Elmar Hahn.

After testing the designs himself, Baumann asked homeless magazine sellers for advice.

“On one hand, there are so many homeless people and urban nomads out there, who make use of the public and private facilities. On the other hand, there are plenty of really strong individualists, either homeless people or urban nomads, who would never make use of those facilities,” Baumann wrote in an email. “So therefore I think it is really important that the offers for help should be individual and different.”

After creating several pieces for homeless individuals, Baumann realized that street dwellers often bumped up against the law, but didn’t necessarily know what codes they were accused of violating. As a result, he’s working with a legal advisor to develop a small “know your rights” booklet for the homeless to be distributed later this year.

“IH Cageman 1800 HK,” © Winfried Baumann. Photo: Elmar Hahn.

But Baumann’s work doesn’t just reflect the needs of the homeless. Micro-housing initiatives have sprung up in cities all over the world in response to rapid urbanization and housing demands of students and tech workers. Engineering the most functionality jam-packed (yet minimalist) existence has become something of an international contest, perhaps even a new kind of status symbol for the design-conscious.

The irony of relatively affluent urbanites seeking out these kinds of living situations isn’t lost on Baumann.


“The future of the cities will be even more shaped by smaller and more flexible living spaces,” he writes. “At the same time my objects display that the new and upcoming nomadism and the gain of independence is only possible if you are losing a lot of life quality.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.