Can These Rooftop Cabins Solve Urban Apartment Shortages?

Cabin Spacey wants to convert the tops of Berlin’s buildings into a new source of housing.

Like in many other cities, it’s getting harder to find an apartment in Berlin. Rents have gone up almost 60% over the last seven years, and vacancies are so scarce that the city decided to ban Airbnb rentals of full apartments in May.


But the city has around 55,000 unused roofs. So two Berlin-based architects are now experimenting with a new design for tiny houses that are designed to quickly install on rooftops and easily connect to utilities.

The design, called Cabin Spacey, is only about 250 square feet but designed to have enough room for two people. Inside, there is a kitchen on one side, a bathroom on the other, and stairs leading up to a simple loft. The outer shell has huge windows for admiring your rooftop views.

“We think people don’t need that much space,” says Simon Becker, who designed the house with fellow architect Andreas Rauch. “Especially in this time when needs are changing. If you ask the young person–we think we’re part of the target group, us or even younger people–it’s just different what they need. They don’t say we need space for a car, space for a TV. They say we need an Internet connection, high-quality bed, high-quality shower. And they rather prefer ecological, high-quality spots over space. If they’re on top of the city with an amazing view, it’s worth so much more than a huge flat.”

The cabin is topped with solar panels that can power the whole space (and help power the building below, if there’s extra). It can also run fully off the grid, including water, if needed, though the plan is to use existing infrastructure when possible. “There’s infrastructure in cities, and we think it needs to be shared,” he says. “So we definitely want to connect to the grid.”

The architects plan to build the first prototype this year, funded in part by a crowdfunding campaign after the concept was one of three winners in the Smart Urban Pioneers competition.

They’re negotiating with a handful of building owners to find the right model and price for roof space, which may be purchased, rented, or loaned. “Nobody knows the value of a roof, how much it’s worth,” he says. “It’s a thing of negotiation at the moment. We just have to make it happen.”


The designers are also negotiating with manufacturers about building materials and don’t yet know how much the homes will cost, other than they will be less than 100,000 euros each (it may be half as much). They may eventually rent the homes as well and plan to offer other sizes.

In other underused niches in a city–parking lots, gaps between other buildings–the cabin could help provide even more housing. “We want to let Cabin Spacey rain like Tetris on the city and fill all these small spaces,” says Becker.

In Berlin, where tens of thousands of people move each year (and where 50,000 refugees arrived in 2015), the city estimates that it will need 20,000 new homes every year, until 2020, to house everyone. It’s currently 120,000 apartments and houses short of demand.

Other cities face similar challenges, and Cabin Spacey wants to solve those, too, moving throughout Europe and then the rest of the world. “When we see that it works–and that we can handle all of the regulations, because that’s a bit of a hurdle–then we want to go to Bangkok, San Francisco, where it’s needed,” he says.

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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, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."