If design is aimed at saving weight, the consequence may well be that all of a sudden previously immobile objects can turn portable and collapsible. In the case of a room the change can be much more radical, for a room traditionally is not even an object. Rather it is a certain amount of space defined by massive built-in walls, a door and usually one or more windows to the world outside.
A separated space that is not a part of the structure of the lightweight house, could become a facility within the larger space of an entire floor. Moreover, it could offer extra convenience, through its movability, which could imply that one could easily bring it from one spot to another, or from one house to another, or, while we’re at it, from a shop to a home.
The portable room may, in addition, be applicable in a different context. When we started considering the possibility of the portable room as a new kind of product, there happened to be an opportunity in the increase in office space emptiness. The vacancy increase is expected to continue, due to societal changes.
Conversion of office space into family housing could be a way to keep the value of a former office building from dissipating, although this is not as simple as you may be inclined to believe. Transformation requires an adaptation of floorplans, subdivisions and technical details, such as drainage, water and energy systems, balconies and façade windows that can be opened. More importantly, office buildings usually are to be found in industrial or administrative areas, where groceries are hard to come by and public space quality has been neglected. Therefore, offices in former houses or in parts of cities with well mixed programs, are usually affordable to convert, whereas large office blocks in specialised areas are usually destined to continue wasting space and time. Blocks have been built that have never been used.
Portable rooms could function as an option between ‘hard transformation’ and what one might call ‘high-end squatting’. A well-to-do slightly adventurous audience could be targeted with such a product, which could be sold in a furniture store, or perhaps a pop-up shop in the office quarters, that would have to be enriched with grocery markets and caterers.
University of Twente student Product Design Marcel Kock, graduated with the DRS22 assignment to design such a portable room. He researched the market potential and formulated requirements on its function, identity, size and structure.
Decisions had to be made to include and exclude properties. The DRS22 portable room is generic. It could be interpreted as a room for anything but special functions. It is not a kitchen or a toilet, since that would make requirements too specific, but it can be a bedroom, or a game chamber, or a library, or a playroom for children, etc. One could say that the portable room is meant to create privacy for certain portions of everyday life for one, or some individuals, like any traditional room. For this broad purpose it may feature extra convenience, such as storage space or general lighting. All the rest is a matter of putting extra things in it, like a bed, or a desk, or whatever.
There are six collapsible segments that each fit within a package. Two of those function as a door, supported by wheels. Together the four other segments support a roof structure that can be opened, or closed with a central mechanism that behaves somewhat like an umbrella. The size of the oval room is defined by a large bed that would have to fit inside. Of course different sizes could be made available.
The portable room is bound to be different in its look and feel. It will have to develop as a new kind of furniture, a walk-in closet for people to stay in, but different. There may be more of them on one floor – for instance two bedrooms and a VR gaming space - and as a new kind of product it may gradually develop into a characteristic object.
Maybe the idea of development, but certainly the characteristic image, have led Marcel to choose the shape of an egg for the room object. After extensive experimentation with making procedures and creating a knock-down object that one can carry, with IKEA logistics in mind, his proposal consists of a metal tube frame, textile covering and foldable shelves on the inside for books or clothes.