This Pre-Fab Apartment Turns Empty Offices Into Affordable Housing

Drop the Hub into a shuttered office or abandoned factory and—just like that—you have a place to live.

On the second floor of an old commercial building in Rotterdam, a former office will spend the next few months as the testing ground for a new type of temporary apartment.


A simple square kit called the Hub—with a built-in kitchen, shower, and toilet, along with heat, a sound system, and Internet—can be installed in an office, an empty warehouse, or any abandoned space. All that’s needed is access to water and electricity, and installation takes just a few days. You can also add an extra Hub with space for a bed. If the space is later needed for commercial use, the whole thing is designed to come apart just as easily and be moved elsewhere.

It’s designed to help fill the need for more apartments in a quickly growing city where affordable housing is hard to find. “We have a huge target group in Rotterdam for affordable housing,” says Danielle Rungs from Havensteder, an organization that handles housing for low-income people in the city. In 2015, Havensteder held a competition asking for a vision of how people might live in the future. The Hub won for its concept of housing that could almost instantly be installed to meet demand.

At the moment, someone who wants affordable housing has to wait around four years. “It was always urgent,” says Rungs. “But the necessity is more urgent now, because as you know, we have in Europe a lot of refugees from the Middle East—Syria and Iraq.” When asylum seekers are given a residence permit, they have to move out of temporary housing, and right now, it’s difficult to find a new place to go. Students also struggle to find housing. Even those with higher incomes sometimes have trouble finding apartments in a tight market.

The Hub makes use of something the Netherlands has an abundance of—empty or abandoned commercial space. “Across the country, you’ll find empty office and retail space,” says David Hess, an architect at Kraaijvanger, the Rotterdam-based design firm that created the Hub. “Transformation [into residential space] is often very expensive, so owners wait till a good return on investment. Thanks to the Hub, properties can be converted in no time without the need of a large investment.”

Rent would vary depending on the size of the office space, but Havensteder says that a small space could potentially be around 500 euros (about $550). The Hub itself may be owned by a combination of materials suppliers and service providers such as the water and electric companies.

“We believe that we live in a time where ownership becomes less interesting,” says Hess. “You want to live somewhere nice, but you do not necessarily have own it. Because the suppliers of the materials and the equipment stay the owners, they will always ensure that the quality and durability are as high as possible. This is for the benefit of everyone.”


A tenant will live in the pilot Hub space for six months. “He will test if the Hub really makes the empty offices space a comfortable home,” says Hess. “How is the kitchen functioning, the bathroom, but also the sound, the heating, and the ventilation system.”

If the pilot goes well, the architects hope to expand the idea. It’s something that could be of immediate use. “Because of so many empty [factories] in the Netherlands, we can imagine that they will be quickly converted into homes for refugees by the placement of Hubs,” says Hess.

All Photos: Ronald Tilleman


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.