11 Wanderlust-Inducing Works of Mobile Architecture

Small, smartly organized and highly portable, “Mobitecture: Architecture on the Move” (Phaidon Press) is one of those rare books in which the design perfectly mirrors the content, which, in this case, consists of more than 250 moveable, mobile and otherwise peripatetic lifestyle-friendly structures from around the globe.

Stuffed with a veritable parade of tents, trailers, tiny houses and buoyant abodes, “Mobitecture” is also the perfect book for daydreaming about epic road trips, backwoods adventures and off-grid forays into the great unknown. These are structures — some habitable, some not so much — meant to be plopped down in the middle of anywhere, the more scenic and further-flung the better.

Including more than a few structures that have previously appeared on MNN (floating saunas and towable tiny houses included), the just-released "Mobitecture" is divided into eight chapters based on each featured design’s primary means of mobility: Human, No Wheels, One & Two Wheels, Three Wheels, Four Wheels, Five+ Wheels, Sleds+ and Water, a chapter that offers a decent helping of houseboat porn. What’s more, special “Mobility Icons” — hands, pedals, car, onboard engine, helicopter, shopping cart and donkey to name just a few — are listed with each project to further illustrate how the structure in question is moved from place to place. Icons also represent how many people each featured structure can accommodate at one time.

Below, you’ll find one or two standout structures from each of the book’s eight chapters, starting with a "bubble of fun" and ending with a handsome floating tribute to Henry David Thoreau. Included is information about each structure's country of origin, year of design and materials used.

Again, “Mobitecture,” while pleasantly chunky, is compact. Like a coffee table book zapped into miniature, it's the ideal size for beach totes and airplane seat-back pockets. But then again, it’s only fitting that a tome about on-the-go architecture — a "visual ode to life on the move" — can be so easily enjoyed on the go.


The Jello Pavilion — Cornell University, U.S.

Conceived by students at Cornell University's School of Art, Architecture and Planning, the Jello Pavilion isn't exactly somewhere that you'd want to rest your head for the night (or any extended amount of time). However, it does get high marks for gleeful weirdness. Constructed from over 100 sheets of plastic sheeting, inflated with a high-power fan and filled with balloons (!), Jello Pavilion was developed as a means of experimenting with new forms but also to give Cornell students an opportunity "to literally enter a bubble of fun in the midst of hectic campus life."

Jello Pavilion by Cornell University
The Jello Pavilion, Cornell University, USA, 2015. Plastic panels, Velcro. (Photo: Inaqui Carnicero)

No Wheels

Trampoline Tent — Atlantic Tents, U.K.

Ever fantasize about sleeping under the stars in your own backyard while splayed out atop a trampoline? Here you go:

Trampoline Tent by Atlantic Trampolines, UK
Trampoline Tent, Atlantic Trampolines, U.K., 2005. Steel framing, metal tubing, polyester, mesh. (Photo: Atlantic Trampolines LTD)

Unidome — James Towner-Coston, U.K.

Sporting a paint job that resembles a red onion but inspired by the segmented sections of an orange, the timber-framed Unidome is a modular, yurt-esque structure that's a shoo-in for seasoned glampers who fully expect their accommodations to be distinctive, spacious, comfortable and entrenched in nature (while being not too far located from indoor plumbing and other amenities). Based in Salisbury, England, Unidomes are available to buy or rent and, as the company's website points out, "can be used for all kinds of events, activities and special occasions. Just choose where you'd like to go ..."

Unidome by James Towner-Coston
Unidome, James Towner-Coston, U.K., 2014. Ash wood, coated fabric, timber, polyethylene. (Photo: Paul Viant)

One & Two Wheels

The Classic American Dream Camper — American Dream Trailers, U.S.

Yes, that is indeed a camper trailer with a rowboat for a roof pictured below. Pretty much a godsend for space-conscious folks looking to embark on lake- or river-centric camping excursions, the Classic American Dream Camper is a retro-styled fiberglass boat-trailer combo that's spacious enough to sleep two. And not to worry when the trailer's boat-roof is detached and taken out on the water for a spell, there's a secondary, permanent roof hidden underneath to keep the interior of the trailer dry and bug-free.

The Classic American Dream Trailer by American Dream Trailers, USA
The Classic American Dream Trailer, American Dream Trailers, USA, 2013. Steel chassis, fibrerglass, Plexiglas, plywood. (Photo: Daniel Evans)

Three Wheels

Parkcycle Swarm — N55, John Bela, Til Wolfer; The Netherlands

It's a tricycle! No ... it's a pop-up park! No, wait ... it's a Parkcycle Swarm! From the Netherlands (naturally) comes this people-powered green space-on-wheels concept that enables city-dwellers to enjoy a little slice of grass (well, AstroTurf) wherever they may be. While a cluster of four synthetic turf-topped platforms is no substitute for a public park, it looks like they'll do quite nicely when all you want to do is just drop everything and bask in the sunshine.

Parkcycle Swarm by N55, John Bela, Til Wolfer; Germany
Parkcycle Swarm, N55, John Bela, Til Wolfer, The Netherlands, 2013. Tricycle, aluminum, plywood, AstroTurf. (Photo: N55)

Bufalino — Cornelius Comanns, Germany

The iconic three-wheeled commercial vehicle known as the Piaggio Ape has been zipping around Italian roadways since 1948. Used to deliver everything from mail to pizzas, lightweight and versatile Apes are ideal for navigating narrow, steep streets something that Italy has in spades, both in its far-flung towns and dense urban centers. And, as envisioned by German designer Cornelius Comanns, they're also kind of perfect for solo sojourns into the great outdoors. Comanns' Bufalino is a Piaggo Ape 50 that's been cleverly converted into a miniaturized camper van of sorts complete with a bed, sink, cooking area and even a fridge.

Four Wheels

Tiny House — Walden Studio, The Netherlands

When produced by a Dutch design firm that goes by Walden Studio, you'd fully expect a tiny, off-grid cabin to be the crème de la crème. And this diminutive dwelling with a not-so-imaginative name is pretty excellent indeed. From the space-maximizing transformer furniture to the rooftop solar panels to the oversized windows that allow for abundant natural light, this pine-clad cabin-on-wheels is an exercise in comfortable minimalism. As noted at sister site TreeHugger, the compact abode is also the full-time residence of Dutch tiny house advocate Marjolein Jonker who, last summer, became the first person in her municipality to own a tiny home with the full legal backing of local housing authorities.

Tiny House by Walden Studio, The Netherlands
Tiny House, Walden Studio, The Netherlands, 2016. Steel chassis, wood, plasterboard, aluminum, solar panel, glass. (Photo: Lena van der Wal)

Five+ Wheels

Wothahellizat MK1 — Rob Gray, Australia

It's only fitting that the roving abode known as Wothahellizat MK1 hails from Down Under — it looks like the sort of thing that your retired grandparents might putter around the country in if they also happen to be off-roading adventurers and/or hardcore fans of the "Mad Max" franchise. Or something like that. Billed as "Australia's largest, weirdest and best-known motor-home," Wothahellizat MK1 is surprisingly comfy despite its tough-as-nails dystopian RV looks. Conceived with extended trips into the Outback and other remote locales in mind, there's enough storage space for food, water and other provisions in this intense-looking mobile home to last for months.

Wothahellizat Mk1 by Rob Gray, Australia
Wothahellizat Mk1, Rob Gray, Australia, 2001. Truck body, aluminum tread plate, glass. (Photo: Rob Gray)


DW Sauna — Denizen Works, Finland

Noted for cleverly circumnavigating stringent local building codes, DW Sauna is a dainty portable hut that manages to be both predictable (it's a sauna in Finland, motherland of saunas) and totally unexpected (it's built atop a sled). Appropriate for social sweating both on land and on water, DW Sauna lives atop concrete blocks during the warmer months. When winter comes and local lakes freeze over, this easy-to-tow sauna-sled serves as an ideal outpost from which to take a very frigid dip after an extended shvitz with friends. Finns, by the way, are old pros at plunging into holes cut into frozen lakes.

DW Sauna by Denizen Works, Finland.
DW Sauna, Denizen Works, Finland, 2011. Timber, stove, recycled glass, pine. (Photo: Tiina Tervo)


Zendome — Zenivision, Germany

A floating campsite essentially, Zendome includes all of the same perks (solitude, wide-open skies, al fresco dining) and downsides (bugs, wicked sunburn) of terrestrial campsites but with the added bonus of drifting aimlessly. Here, the traditional tent has been replaced with a durable but lightweight geodesic dome placed atop a spacious floating raft-pavilion. It's safe to assume that returning to shore after a blissed-out sojourn aboard Zendome must be excruciatingly painful.

Zendome by Zenivision, Germany
Zendome, Zenvision, Germany, 2007. Stainless steel, PVC, timber. (Photo: © Gordian Overschmidt)

Walden Raft — Elise Morin and Florent Albinet, France

Thoreau devotees rejoice! Walden Raft is exactly what you think it is: a floating version of the modest lakeside cabin in Massachusetts built and inhabited by everyone’s favorite nature-communing practitioner of deliberate living and civil disobedience. Built to the same proportions of the famed Transcendentalist essayist’s original hermitage near Walden Pond, the pine-planked Walden Raft was set afloat on a tranquil lake in the lush, mountainous — and outdoor reaction-heavy — region of Auvergne, France, in 2015.

Inset image: Phaidon Press