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Mobile matters

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Move House By Sean Topham. Prestel, 2004. 144pp. £25

Move House examines vehicles, artworks and oddities that lie outside the architectural mainstream. It illustrates about 60 'mobile homes' - such as Werner Aisslinger's Loft Cube (above) - although many stretch the definition of home to breaking point.

Sean Topham supplies the context for these contemporary examples. He has an engaging style and his text is refreshingly unpretentious.

The main body of the book is graphically bold, and consists of brief descriptions of each project together with photographs or computer-generated images of the work.

Topham groups the projects under four broad chapter headings. The first is 'Fight the Power', which illustrates dwellings that employ mobility as a way of 'offering an alternative way of life from mainstream society'. It includes Santiago Cirugeda's Casa Insectico, which provides the ultimate defendable dwelling for the modern 'tree protester', and Sean Godsell's Park Bench House, which provides a bespoke bench for rough sleepers, albeit for a unit cost of AUS$2,700 (£1,050).

'Flexible Friends' looks at contemporary interpretations of traditional nomadic dwellings. Several of these merge the idea of clothing with shelter, such as Moreno Ferrari's Parka/Air Mattress (a tent you can wear).

'Taking the Trailer Uptown' contains examples that prove 'not all mobile homes are cheap alternatives to permanent property', and certainly succeeds in demonstrating that some are expensive alternatives. Given this aim, some of the project choices seem odd, imbued with a worrying underlying purpose. Topham's observation that Atelier van Lieshout's Mini Capsules are 'basic solutions for the storage of people' is only slightly less disturbing than van Lieshout's:

'It's like we're farming people.' 'Oasis' includes those examples that are able to 'transform from private to public spaces when the need arises', when groups of like-minded homeowners come together - as in the example of what is apparently known as the 'eco-RV community'. This apparently pursues 'a low-impact lifestyle', which must be quite difficult as it travels across continents in large customised trucks.

In this instance, the project seems permeated by a slightly perverse internal logic. The almost comic quality of some examples is presumably unintended. But anyone such as Steven Roberts, who spends three-and-a-half years developing a tricycle called Behemoth (Big Electronic Human Energised Machine, Only Too Heavy), and reveals 'home quite literally became an abstract electronic concept', can't be without a sense of humour.

I am not sure who constitutes the audience for this book. Its subject matter is outside the usual offerings of the architectural press, so this review could arguably be more appropriately situated in Caravanners' Monthly (should such a magazine exist). However, it is a colourful book and presents a series of interpretations of what homes are, which is nothing if not challenging.

Essentially, this is a book packed with aspirational lifestyle objects for the incurably peripatetic. If you read Kerouac as a teenager, aspired to a VW camper van as a student, and feel uneasy using the word hippy, then this is probably your type of property porn.

Alex Wright is an architect in Bath

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