As in most other cities around the world, the highways around Banksa Bystrica, Slovakia, are lined with billboards covered in ads. One day, as designers walked under yet another new steel frame for a billboard, they started to wonder if the structure could serve a second purpose: Could the triangular space between two ads be turned into a tiny house?
As they considered the idea more, they realized the ads could actually help pay for the home–so it could be offered for free to people in need. “I saw a guy sleeping on a bus stop while returning to my rental flat,” says Matej Nedorolik, one of the designers, who was a student at the time. “Something isn’t right, I was saying to myself. … I started to think about how to change that, and how to do something for people who are left alone to take care of themselves.”
The design they created, called Project Gregory, has a kitchen, tiny office space, a bed with storage, and a bathroom, all intended for a single homeless person. In theory, since the billboards are already connected to the power grid and can easily be connected with water as well, the houses should be relatively easy to get up and running.
For now, it’s just a concept. “Of course there is a question whether people would be interested in living in these spaces, if they could be maintained or they would be destroyed,” says Nedorolik. “The whole project is in a ‘work on’ phase.”
In cities with large homeless populations, it probably isn’t a viable way to provide housing for many. There’s also the question of whether those who are struggling should be living apart from other residential areas, next to the pollution of a crowded street, or in a home that’s plastered with advertising.
But while some cities are trying to figure out how to get rid of billboards, the designers argue that in most places they’re going to be around for a while–so we might as well make better use of them. “We think that cities should have fewer billboards, but it is not possible nowadays,” Nedorolik says. “Today’s world is flooded with billions of advertisements that attack people from everywhere. Project Gregory is a way to rebuild those billboards … to make lives easier.”