Friday, Jun 02, 2017
by Ros Anderson
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The bike that’s also a house

The image of a bicycle loaded with unbelievable amounts of stuff – whether it’s food, furniture or wares to sell at a market – is a staple image of developing-world travel reportage. But one design company has taken the idea of carrying your life on your bike a step further, creating a fully functioning house that can be transported by tricycle. As a response to overcrowding and issues of land ownership in their native Beijing, design and architecture practice People’s Industrial Design Office has come up with the world’s first person-powered mobile home.

Made of lightweight polypropylene, the design is based on the principal of a concertina, with walls expanding and collapsing to form a real-life Tardis. The material doesn’t lose strength when it is folded, making it both strong and light enough to transport on the back of a bike. The idea is that such a house can be set-up in urban areas like parking lots at night, moving on again when necessary.

The collapsible house has a tiny footprint, but its truly ingenious design allows all the functions of life to fit within it. Water pipes in the tricycle-end of the house mean that both cooking and bathing are contained within the same wall. A pull-up sink and hob provide a working kitchen, while another panel in the same wall pulls out to create a folding bathtub and shower. Its mobile design means that off-grid living is essential – the house has its own water tank, but does not have a generator. Instead the translucent shell is designed to allow natural daylight and street light in to cook, read and work by.

Based in Beijing, People’s Industrial Design Office was founded by American designer and architect James Shen and Chinese architects He Zhe and Zang Feng. Their design work covers multiple disciplines, and is inspired by the needs of the local community. “We found that often there was little to no emphasis on the person using the building or the people around the buildings,” James recently told Designboom of the company’s ethos. “We thought maybe we could start from that point of view and work from there. All of our designs are centered around people - that’s where our firm’s name came from.”

Other projects by the firm range from furniture to a bolt-on ‘courtyardhouse plug-in’, a self-contained unit designed to bring modernised living space to China’s historic but often dilapidated hutong housing. In that instance, as with the Tricycle House, issues of privacy, land and space are addressed in the design. “Private ownership of land in China does not exist,” says James. “The Tricycle House suggests a future embrace of the temporary relationship between people and the land they occupy. [Our design proves] in a crowded Chinese city that single family homes can be affordable and sustainable.’

True to the designer’s claims to consider the community in their creative process, this isn’t necessarily a solution suitable only for bike-loving hermits. The house has been designed so that it can connect to others, with the rear of the building opening up to form a tunnel that can be joined to another house. There are even blueprints for a community of tricycle houses, with a number of them placed back-to-back and a central courtyard established – this time with mobile tricycle garden modules. Rather like a circle of covered wagons in the Wild West, this arrangement allows for temporary shelter and a social space created on the move.

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