Is it an RV? A camper cabin? An accessory dwelling unit? A tiny house? A mobile hotel room? A ultra-modern tiny house? Geoff Warner’s newest innovation, the LightHotel, is all of those and yet none of them. The architect and founder of the WeeHouse goes mobile with the LightHotel, having created a luxe, sustainable, compact room for rent on wheels that’s now available via Airbnb. Currently it’s perched at the edge of the St. Anthony Park Community Garden in St. Paul, a post where visitors can watch neighborhood gardeners cultivate their plots, listen to the birds, study the trains passing by, and drink and dine at a plethora of breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants in the area.
Made from a salvaged 8-foot by 20-foot shipping container by Warner (and his team at Alchemy Architects, which offices just down the street) and students from the University of Minnesota, LightHotel was designed as a “beacon for ecotourism and sustainable living in the Twin Cities,” according to the press material. It has a spray-foam shell, triple-glazed windows and doors, solar powered HVAC, LED lighting, and hydronic infloor heat. The water system is self-contained, with a 250-gallon water tank that supplies an on-demand water heater and bio-filter for grey water. There’s a bathroom, but no kitchen.
“Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, the LightHotel is a mobile one-room hotel that moves throughout the Twin Cities, occupying places both celebrated and ignored,” Warner explains. “The inhabitants become part of an urban play in which they are both the watchers and the watched. The city is the lobby.” LightHotel was also designed as an art object, he adds, with a dialogic purpose.
“The LightHotel is as much a process of civic engagement and urban ecotourism as it is an object,” he adds. He initiated the project to inform his other work, push his team outside of its comfort zone, and inspire “conversations that reflect bigger issues of energy and space use on both personal and civic levels.” Because LightHotel doesn’t fall into neat, established zoning and permitting categories, Alchemy has worked closely with St. Paul Parks and Recreation, and St. Paul’s zoning and building departments to obtain necessary permits.
In the process, LightHotel has opened up new dialogue about new ways to vitalize cities. Since its debut at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) in May 2016, the LightHotel has been used as an example of sustainability and innovative design at Northern Spark, as a stage during the Eaux Claires Music and Art Festival, as a community hub in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone, and as a classroom at the Minnesota State Fair’s Eco-Experience.
“It has been seen by over a million people and toured by tens of thousands,” Warner says. “The visiting public has been asked where they’d like its ‘lobby’ to be and answers range from public parks and beaches to private drives and neighborhood nooks.” For now, you too can sleep light and tight in this mobile room with a view.
by Camille LeFevre