This type of prefabs have become more common in recent years because affordable housing is still far from a reality. Before the Boxabl Casita, though, there was the Seelenkiste, also known as the Soul Box or the Spirit Shelter. It never made it past the production of just one demo unit, but it served to show not just that affordable housing was possible but that it could also satisfy the demand for increased mobility. For that reason alone, it deserves another five minutes in the spotlight.
Seelenkiste was a project by a small design studio from Germany called Allergutendinge, which focuses on sustainable building practices. Comprised of Matthias Prüger, Manuel Rauwolf, and Ulrike Wetzel of the Bauhaus University Weimar, the studio developed the project for this tiny movable house and implemented the construction a while later, in the spring of 2012. It was displayed locally as an “emotional hideaway,” a place that could help man reconnect with nature and himself.
Seelenkiste was basically a folding prefab house that could be set up on any level ground, using only some support and no foundation. Because it was lightweight, it could easily be moved from place to place when the two residents wanted to, though it clearly lacked the high degree of mobility of an RV or even today’s ever-so-popular tiny houses.
With a wooden frame clad in fiberglass-reinforced plastic panels, the Seelenkiste was all wood inside, down to the fold-away furniture. It offered a footprint of 8 square meters (86 square feet) and was barely spacious for two residents who did not require much by means of leading a comfortable life.
To minimize its impact on the environment, it was designed as a three-story(-ish) structure – a most surprising twist for a foldable prefab. The ground floor was the dining and kitchenette area, with the front wall folding all the way out to create a porch. The kitchenette was spartan even by the most generous definition: even the designers said you could only make a cup of tea or coffee in there, so the small table with the two seats was probably reserved for dining on cold cuts.
Of course, the Seelenkiste was not without flaws, even as a concept and only prototype. The biggest one is obviously the lack of a bathroom, as well as the designers’ failure to mention anything of running water or electricity. After all, if you’re going to work in this prefab and preferably do it with a cup of something hot on the desk, where are you to get the power and the water for it? Then, there’s the issue of ventilation on wet or colder days, when neither of the fold-away walls could be… well, folded away. Would you not be living in a slightly-taller, dark wooden box then?
That said, the Seelenkiste never aimed to be an all-encompassing solution, a permanent residence, but rather a “small research station, [...] a place to sleep, a niche for sitting,” and an “emotional hideaway” that will encourage residents to live harmoniously with nature and themselves. A dream.