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This German Architect Turned a Recycled Silo into a (Tiny) House

The goal was to “look at the standard way of living from a different angle."

Nadja Sayej

Nadja Sayej

Körbes's daughter stands in front of their silo home. Image: Jan Körbes

Unlike most architects, Jan Körbes spent two years living in a caravan.

“I wanted my own space,” said Körbes, who spends half his time traveling for work. Initially an experiment, such mobile living actually worked. But anyone who has lived in a caravan would know that there is a lack of space, and, er, privacy.

While an apartment might be a solution for most, Körbes was inspired to build a home from an old grain silo, which he found in the Netherlands and shipped to Germany. The home cost $20,000, and Körbes has been living in the silo with his 7-year-old daughter since July. 

Set out front of the Center for Art and Urbanistics in Berlin, the silo house looks like a mini spaceship (or a giant Tic Tac). The project, called Silo City, is supported by REFUNC, a design group Körbes co-runs with Denis Oudendijk, Damian van der Velde, and Bart Groenewegen. The goal is to build new things from waste. From toilet seat park benches in Lithuania to mobile bin bars in South Africa and truck tire public art in Kyrgyzstan, they call it creative recycling.

The silo came in from the Netherlands and was installed by crane. Image: Jan Körbes

“It's an approach to a different kind of living,” Körbes said. “But it depends how you want to live.”

Just up the old scaffolding stairs and inside the 13 square meter space, everything in the silo is cleverly organized. In a house with no corners, things are built into the walls and floors. The house is insulated by “a thermo sandwich,” as Körbes calls it, about seven centimeters thick and filled with recycled paper, aluminum heat reflector foil, wood, and polyester. The wood is sourced from construction sites or wood benches.

The kitchen floor is made from recycled cork, while the windows are odd shaped ones that were never used. Underneath the kitchen table is a heated bathtub to warm your feet. All around, there are shelves made from fridge doors, a stovetop hotplate from a British ship, and a wood oven burning collected waste. The ceiling has a camera, pointed below, which documents life in the silo (parties, events and construction).  Almost everything is recycled, including the water.

The interior is largely furnished by recycled items. Image: Christiaan van der Kooy

The shower is tucked away in what looks like a closet. It operates on five liters of circulated water mixed with rainwater, while 80 liters of drinking water is added to the supply every two weeks. Down a ladder to the basement, you find the water tanks holding Körbes's supply. A special toilet in a separate room separates urine and excrement. “The urine gets filtered by a plant system and the excrement gets collected and dried from compost,” said Körbes.

The second floor is accessed with recycled climbing grips. The sleeping area is crowned by a skylight from a plastic factory that went bankrupt and over to the left, there’s a small desk where Körbes’ daughter draws and does homework. To the right, drawers from old desks make a new makeshift closet.

But the silo house is not entirely independent. It acts as an ‘urban parasite’ to the Center for Art and Urbanistics building, connected for electricity and extra water. “I can go autonomous with my solar panels but when next to city infrastructure it is much more logical and challenging to attach to and parasite the existing city systems,” he said.

The goal was to “look at the standard way of living from a different angle,” said Körbes.

Silo City is a one-year project with the Center for Art and Urbanistics which runs until July 31, 2014. Doors open on weekend (by chance). Stay posted on the Silo City fanpage.