Off the Grid
Prefabricated, self-sufficient housing unit adapts to different landscapes and climatic conditions.
How did the idea for an off-grid cabin come about, architect PEKKA LITTOW?
I owned an allotment garden cabin on an island outside Helsinki that was at the point of collapse and I wanted to replace it. The difficulty of implementing basic amenities on the island led me to think that perhaps many people have this same problem and there would be a more general need for finding a solution. The Majamaja cabin is a modern version of the allotment garden cabin, equipped with modern comforts – a fully equipped mini house for four people.
The prototype for the Majamaja cabin has been built amidst the sensitive archipelago landscape of Vuorilahdenniemi in Laajasalo, Helsinki. How does a mobile standardised building fit different landscape conditions?
The cabin does not have a sewage system, which allows it to be positioned according to the forms of the natural terrain. It can be set up on pillars without modifications to the terrain or installed on the water’s edge, or even above the water. The minimalistic, iconic shape of the Vuorilahdenniemi cabin has its roots in the boatsheds of the archipelago. The type allows the cabins to be grouped into villages, thus sparing untouched nature. The external shape is customisable: the roof angle, the layout of the terrace and the facade material are chosen according to the site where it is being constructed. We are currently making a version for by the Mediterranean, where the angle of incidence of the sun is different and the solar panels require a differently shaped roof.
How have the basic living functions been accommodated in a 23.5-square-metre building?
Experiences of boating life and working as an architect in the cramped city of Paris teach you to avoid wasting space. Packing the technical installations into a services cabinet and within the floor construction looks simple and obvious, but it required a really long period of development. The solution is patented. Furniture that folds into the walls is an integral part of the functional and flexible space.
What technical solutions make it possible to minimise the ecological footprint of the building?
The energy self-sufficiency of the Majamaja cabin is mainly achieved with solar panels. For energy storage, the cabins have batteries originally developed for military use. When there are several Majamaja cabins placed together, such as the five at Vuorilahdenniemi, it will be profitable to install one’s own wind-power unit as an energy source for the periods of darkness. In exceptional cases, additional energy is generated by a portable backup generator. Heating and cooking are handled by a gas appliance developed for caravans and boats.
Clean domestic water is produced from rainwater with a house-specific closed-loop water treatment appliance, which also recycles grey water for reuse. Nothing is let back into nature. The number of rainwater tanks can be increased in the space reserved for them in the floor construction. The urine-diverting dry toilet allows easy composting of the toilet waste for soil improvement. A gas-powered incinerating toilet can also be installed in the Majamaja cabin.
In the future, our company built around Majamaja will explore solutions that serve larger housing units, such as small apartment blocks. We believe that in the future, an apartment building’s own energy production or the water treatment system within the individual apartment will be as self-evident as any current household appliance.
The Majamaja cabins in Helsinki will soon be offered for short-term rentals, and the project will also expand abroad. What conditions does the Majamaja cabin offer for an ecological lifestyle?
The Majamaja cabin offers a solution for those who appreciate small-scale, high-quality and nature-preserving, that is, sustainable leisure living. When the size remains reasonable, more focus can be placed on quality. It is imperative that as wealth increases, the appreciation of quality increases: relevance and responsibility win over quantity.
The basis of the thinking behind Majamaja is to increase responsibility and the understanding of the limited resources and impact of one’s own actions upon them by bringing the energy and water supply as close as possible to the end user. This makes it possible to control waste management, as well as water and energy consumption, by changing one’s personal habits. The benefits are motivating because they are personal, immediate and visible.
You have set up a company for the marketing of the cabins. How can architecture be commodified, and what does it require?
I don’t believe in standardised architectural solutions, as they easily lead to monotony, the rapid onset of boredom, and most of all, rootless architecture.
The changing architecture of the Majamaja cabin creates the framework for the service it offers, a comprehensive vision with off-grid living at its core. Disconnection from fixed infrastructure networks opens up a tremendous new scope for construction and holiday dwellings.
Going beyond the usual role of an architect requires, above all, a good team with diverse skills. The other founders of the project are Vincent Monteux, who is responsible for the technical solutions, and the CEO Tuomas Autio. ↙