Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Get Your Unreal Estate License

Many cities across the world are experiencing spikes in real estate prices. More people, competing for finite amounts of space lead to ungodly sums changing hands for small bits of urban square footage. German architect-cum-activist Van Bo Le-Mentzel has no shortage innovative solutions to this vexing issue. A while ago, he presented us with the one-square meter home. More recently, he created the Unreal Estate House, a popup housing project that supposes housing should be more right than privilege.

The Unreal Estate House is a tinier, more teutonic take on the tiny house movement raging in the United States (perhaps “simmering” is a more apt verb). Like American tiny houses, UEH is mounted to a trailer, sidestepping nasty and costly building codes, taxes and reliance on the man…and the power, water and sewage grid. It has all of a home’s amenities: bed, kitchen, bathroom and shower. More important than its spartan amenities is its cheap construction costs and availability to inhabit rent-free.


The home had its roots as a crowdfunding campaign. Le-Mentzel asked for the €3000 (~US $4100) he projected the house to cost. After funding, he put the blueprints online for anyone to construct the house themselves and set up an online registration page where anyone could rent the prototype house out for free. Le-Mentzel explains his motivation (via a solid Google translation):

The Unreal Estate House is an attempt to give people a little, but inspiring living environment without paying rent. I want to build a prototype in August 2013 and then make it available to people who want to put their time and effort in the common good rather than in a meaningless employment. Rent pressure is often the reason why we do not pursue our true passions. I want to change that. I believe that the world will be better if we can do things in our lives that we want. And that starts with the free choice of residence. We must free ourselves from the artificially generated pressure of existential angst. I am not a communist. I’m a Karma economist and am committed to a world that is worth living for everyone, not for the few.

Le-Mentzel sees the house as perfect for “immigrants from Europe, human rights activists, start-ups, adventurers, writers, digital nomads, FSJ [?] people, curators, art and cultural workers” and other “Karma workers.”

Not surprisingly, the unheated home doesn’t seem to be teeming with tenants at the moment (this deduction is based on our reading of the UEH’s archaic signup page and Google translation). In fact, the UEH is just as much (or more) activist art than viable housing. Like American tiny houses, UEH is beset with practical issues such as “where the hell do we put this?” (it seems to be floating around Berlin at the moment) and where do we put the waste water?

Even if it doesn’t offer a clear-cut solution, Le-Mentzel’s project asks a bold question: should our political battles be dealt with by changing the existing system or creatively working within it? In terms of the availability of precious urban real estate, the former strategy entails lobbying policy makers to create more affordable housing. This is great for providing certain populations nice, comfy pads, but it also leaves many unaccounted for and others subject to the vagaries of our policymakers’ whims. The latter strategy entails finding cracks in the status quo where we can live happy, financially sound lives; these cracks include, but are not limited to micro-apartments, tiny houses and co-housing. This strategy yields some unorthodox (usually small) solutions–ones many don’t believe they can live with–but might also lead to more resilient, sustainable living conditions for anyone who wants to use them.

What do you think? In the battle for valuable real estate, is the most effective strategy to fight the good fight and seek policy change and government subsidized housing, or do we surrender ourselves and find ways to live happily within the existing system?

Image credit: Benjamin Heck