If you need to move to a new city, this tiny apartment is designed to come with you. What's even better, it would cost about half the rent of space at market rate, even if you're in insanely expensive rental markets like Brooklyn or San Francisco.
The sleek glass-and-steel box slides into a narrow metal frame that squeezes into otherwise unbuildable lots in built-up urban neighborhoods. If you need to move, you'd push a button on an app. A moving truck will pull up, slide the apartment completely out of the building, and drive it to an empty slot in a building elsewhere. Forget packing; everything you own can stay inside.
The tech-packed home, called Kasita, was inspired in part by a radical experiment in tiny-house living. For a year, the startup's founder tried living in a converted dumpster as a commentary on the excessiveness of the typical single-family house.
Ten months in, he was fairly sick of it. But "Professor Dumpster," aka Jeff Wilson, an environmental science professor at the Huston-Tillotson University, saw an opportunity to rethink housing—and to design something that was unlike any micro-apartment or tiny home that had ever existed before.
"I started thinking living in a dumpster—33 square feet—and peeing in a bottle isn't all that cool, but there are some very interesting things about this. I can move my house anywhere, it's pretty affordable, I've trimmed down my possessions and have less. I was able to get rid of my car, and I live in the best part of town."
He started working with an industrial designer from the firm Frog to come up with a plan that gave similar benefits. They envisioned a form of housing that would be low-rent even in the middle of the city, mobile, allow for short-term leases, and let people avoid the annoyance of having roommates.
Wilson chose an industrial designer, rather than an architect, because he wanted to avoid expected solutions.
"I told him, I want you to design something more like an iPhone than a micro-apartment or a container," Wilson says. "I want you to throw out everything you know about housing—and he didn't even know a whole lot—and make something really iconic."
The result is a little like the classic Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo—each apartment can be individually moved and replaced. A metal rack bolts together in whatever configuration makes sense for the lot and local building codes—maybe three stories high.
"It enables us to go into very small spaces," says Wilson. "The entire footprint of that rack is only about 1,000 square feet or so. So it allows us to move into unused, previously unusable pieces of land."
Each apartment is about 30% bigger than a shipping container—or the luxurious equivalent of six dumpsters.
"It's not just comfortable for a dumpster dweller, but I think for any single person with a cat," he says. "And/or a goldfish."
Inside, there's enough room for things like a washer and dryer and a full kitchen. "It's a real home," Wilson says. "Have you seen that Portlandia tiny-house episode? There are no hidden cat litter boxes that flip up. I even got rid of the idea of Murphy beds in lofts. After being in that dumpster for a year, I wanted a bed where you can just walk into your house and crash."
Instead of a flip-down bed, a queen-size bed slides out from under the kitchen. In the wall, modular tiles pull out to allow different configurations of products. "You could take a modular tile out of the wall and plug in, say, a clock," Wilson says. "Or you could take out three vertical tiles and plug in a mirror. You could take out six, and plug in a TV."
The prefab buildings are also fully loaded with smart tech. You can tell the glass to darken if you want privacy, turn on the lights and music, or ask for the morning news. Though the first units will plug into the grid, the startup envisions eventually running them off solar power stored in Tesla batteries and adding features like rainwater collection.
Despite the long list of features, the size—and the fact that it can go on lots no one else wants—makes it affordable. "We are very confident that these will rent for about half of market for a studio," Wilson says. "So in Austin, that is about $600."
The company plans to build its first rack in Austin in the spring of 2016, and has agreements on land in several cities. Eventually, it plans to have a network of buildings that people can easily move between.
"Let's imagine you're in San Francisco," Wilson says. "You get on the Kasita app, you find the rack that you want to move to in Austin, you click move, we come along, pull you out of the rack, put you on the truck, move you to Austin, and plug you in. You don't have to go on Craigslist. The biggest nightmare for a millennial—or anybody who doesn't have a severely high net worth—is looking for a place. We hope to solve for that."