The romantic notion of wanderlust, and having the ability to freely move away from the familiar with minimal possessions is a desire that almost everyone has experienced at some point in their lives. The nomadic lifestyle is so appealing because it represents the possibility of rebelling against symbols of stability and permanence in favor of exploring the natural environment and having the ability to adapt to a variety of living conditions with ease. This desire has given rise to movable structures for the urban vagabond that can transform into a temporary office, home, or even an entire community.
The growth of cities and their surrounding suburbs has raised questions about the most ideal way of living and evolved into unconventional methods of domestic design. Almost in parallel, nomadic architecture is an idea that designers have revisited again and again. As propagators of practical city living, designers also have been known to combine the efficiency of urban dwellings with aspects of a roving lifestyle. From designing architecture that floats, rethinking how we understand campsites, and exploring new possibilities for architecture on wheels, these projects redefine the meaning of home and prove that the nomadic spirit is very much alive in the present day.
Perhaps one of the first notable examples of mobile architecture in the modern built environment was Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo, which was constructed for the 1980 inaugural Venice Biennale. Although this structure was not designed for inhabitants, it was constructed in the Fusina shipyards and towed across the Adriatic Sea to the Piazza San Marco for public viewing. This floating structure represented theater as an architectural object, but its transitory nature has had lasting significance on the development of floating architecture typologies, which have further evolved into hundreds of inhabited homes, offices, and schools that can float.
Canada-based Lateral Office developed a new way of understanding what it means to camp by removing the focus from camping gear and proposing design questions about the campsite itself, the collective processes it entails, and the overall experience of camping. The project, which was presented at the first Chicago Biennal in 2015, explored five possibilities for how “campers related to each other, how camping rituals are enacted and inform spatial order, and how the campsite interacts with its context.” The act of camping raises questions of existence and how humans can provide stability in a constantly changing environment as they move from place to place. Characteristic of a campground, the designs were printed on a series of brochures that explain who might use a specific site, the gear required, the landscape, seasonal weather, and how to set up the site for dwelling. The act of camping is so appealing because it provides an escape from permanence and invigorates the primal interest of resorting back to a primitive hut.
Architecture on wheels, or “mobitecture” as it has been dubbed, is another typology that emerged from the desire to adventure off-grid into the great unknown. These habitable structures can be either driven or towed from place to place. Some of the most notable examples include the increasingly popular "tiny homes" that fit the program of a regular house all into a compact area. Many homes are under 40 square meters, and only provide minimal storage, meaning that the occupants can only bring a fraction of their personal belongings. These tiny homes foster social interaction between people and create a sense of solitude with their surrounding environment.
When our lives are not concentrated in one location, nomadic architecture has the ability to propose a new way of living, and completely transform the way we eat, sleep, work, and exist in our daily lives on the go. The potential of these structures show how architects are designing creative solutions to escape our modern realities in search of a more exploratory and environmentally immersed way of life.