When the Airstream trailer hit roads in the 1930s, almost 400 other companies started making travel trailers for the newly growing network of highways in the U.S. Today, out of that original group of manufacturers, only Airstream is left, and “mobile home” suggests a trailer park rather than architecture that’s truly mobile. What’s the future of mobile architecture at a time when digital nomads are more likely to stay in an Airbnb rental than a camper?
Truck-a-tecture, an exhibit up now at Kaneko, an art center in Omaha, Nebraska, asked four architects to imagine the next pre-fab mobile dwellings. “They’re meant to get a dialogue going about living a leaner lifestyle, being nomadic and living a life on the road, and sustainability,” says Kaneko’s executive director Mike Echternacht. “They’re prototypes, but there are a lot of really practical design elements in these.”
While on the road, the Pneumad fits in a small trailer that can easily be towed behind a car. Open up the trailer and push a button, and the shelter inflates into a room large enough to host a party. “It’s not limited by the dimensions of the vehicle itself,” write the architects, from the firm Min/Day. “Pneumad is a prototype for nomads who want to spread out.”
A transformable trailer from the Los Angeles architect Mark Mack pops up in one direction to form an elevated sleeping loft that can be reached by a small set of stairs. On the back, a canopy pops up in the other direction to add shade for a temporary back porch “office.” The sides flip down to give access to a tiny kitchen with a grill, sink, and some storage, and there’s just enough room inside the trailer to store some other basics, like a table and chairs and a bike. After the exhibit is over, Mack plans to bring the trailer to Burning Man as a temporary home.
Architect Wes Jones designed what he calls an “inside-out RV.” As long as the weather allows, it’s a place to live outdoors: Eight pre-fab pods slide out to provide access to things like a kitchen or a shower, while a sleeping hammock rests in the center. Four solar panels power the whole thing. It’s “easier even than pitching a tent, requiring no more effort than dwelling ‘normally’ in a fixed house,” says the design team.
Unlike the other designs, the Aero Mobile is intended as much for use within a city as on the road. Architect Jennifer Siegal, from the Office of Mobile Design, created the design as an option for pop-up shops. Instead of using a storefront, entrepreneurs could travel around the city in the truck, which lifts up to instantly add a second floor.
“Not having a brick and mortar store allows you more financial flexibility,” Siegal says. “It allows you to test ideas in the public domain and bring concepts to the people as opposed to waiting for people to find you. And spaces that are smaller and more compact allow you to really focus on a singular idea.”
Siegal, who recycled the structure in part from old aircraft equipment used to transport luggage, now plans to make a line of related buildings, and open up a mobile storefront in her Venice, California, neighborhood.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about since I first founded Office of Mobile Design,” she says. “Architecture should be more responsive, more mobile, and more deployable, and it should go to the people.”