Type at least 1 character to search
Back to top

Tiny Home on the Water

Solar + Design

The architectural agenda nowadays addresses mobility and domesticity as part of the design debate to challenge our notions of public-private and temporary-permanent.

Relax & Decelerate

While it feels as if the world has started to turn upside down because of pandemic travel restrictions and the effects of global warming, conflicts and the energy crisis, the urgency of having a refuge that has a high level of self-sufficient energy, as well as the option to move around despite all the challenges, has surged around the world. Caravan sales spiked in recent years and although they provide a good enough solution, the question arises: Why not re-design a fully solar-powered motorboat with high-end tiny-home characteristics and create a slow-motion travelling nest?

These were the driving forces to kick off the project of this “Tesla on the Water,” and that’s why the owner, Marianne Friese, named it “Fàng Sōng 放松”, which translates from Chinese into “Relax”!
For Marianne, the desire to spend time on the water was triggered after spending over 20 years in cities with neither coast nor other significant bodies of water, her last stop before Berlin being Beijing. Purchasing this houseboat in 2020 was the culmination of a life journey.

The five-year-old boat caught Marianne’s eye, its exterior’s resemblance to a bus on the water and the potential for the interior design quickly sparked her interest. With enough space for up to two persons as well as guests, it had the potential to easily become a personal retreat for reenergizing and a cozy getaway to invite friends and family.


Background. Transient space.

Itinerant forms of architecture have an extended history through different cultures and times. Moving from place to place in search of food, water and other forms of sustenance, was originally performed out of necessity, and more recently, out of willingness. Nowadays the architectural agenda addresses mobility and domesticity as part of the design debate to challenge our notions of public-private and temporary-permanent. A home that was once linked to solitude, belonging and real estate ownership now shifts to a network of commodities that can be moved to different places.

As Archigram already put it in 1964 with The Walking City: “One of the great attractions of urban living is the notion of being able to access all the services and goods you need easily. But what if those services came to you?”

The dream for Marianne that started with signing up for rowing as a new sport led her to find new ways of living. Together with Crossboundaries, she redefined the concept of “house,” that would not only be as simple as a building made out of bricks. Firstly, perceived as a moored boat, the goal for the new owner was to spend time practicing locally to obtain the relevant driver’s license shortly after completion of the project and eventually being able to reach urban areas like Paris, stay at the banks of the Seine and continue the mobile lifestyle towards Southern France.

“Water is central to these kinds of desirable ecologies that can reshape cities, but also reshape users and designers by being more responsive towards environmental matters,” Hao Dong, co-founder and partner of Crossboundaries, says.


Project: Solar + Design = Tiny Home on the Water
Client: Marianne Friese, Berlin
Program: Boat – Interior
Location: Germany, Berlin, Stößensee
Gross area: 62 sqm
Completion Date: July 2022


Partners in Charge: Binke Lenhardt, DONG Hao
Design team: Marijana Simic, Silvia Campi, YU Hongyu,  YU Zhaoxiong
Photography: Johanna Link, Munich


Collaborators and co-creators: Brettmen, Berlin – Anselm Breig and chief carpenter Malte Spiess
Consultant, technical installations: Benedikt Riepe, Berlin
Consultant, bathroom installations, paintwork: Mirko Kriebel, Berlin
Consulting and installation pellet stove: Woitha, Berlin – Oliver Schwarzer

A House that floats. Compact and transformable

While most people in industrialized regions still live in urban areas, the appeal of water in this project is to explore the possibility of adapting to different living conditions while challenging assumed and conventional norms. This compact space is a perfect match for Crossboundaries because it allows for testing flexibility in micro-dwellings where each room assumes multiple programmatic roles. With an overall length of about 15 m and a maximum width of a bit over 4 m, the boat includes a set of interlinked areas, which transform themselves for different scenarios, rather than the user having to move from one room to the other in the traditional sense.

At the 1929 CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture), the theme “Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum” (The Dwelling for Minimal Existence) was already addressing some of these necessities for creating denser environments. On a more contemporary note, the relationship that exists between the built environment and the possessions we own is as follows: It is tending towards freeing ourselves from too many material objects and giving space to enjoying simple activities that are now forgettable when living in a metropolis.

The boat celebrates creativity by being highly customizable while also being highly efficient and extremely practical because the whole house is being used all the time. Marianne herself cooperated in the design and helped to re-define the boat’s interior with subtle China overtones. A strong color preference for the imperial Chinese colors red and yellow is present, as well as the addition of clever tiny-home functions to maximize the use of the interior. This color concept also highlights the functionality improvements. The color and material coordination of kitchen and bathroom maximize the consistency of the design concept, extending even to the deck.

Maximum transformability:
Some key transformable features were applied in the sleeping areas: a wide bed which fully disappears when not in use, with a comfortable sofa in its location instead. This is followed by a fully hidden bed with a function to close the control stand, called “helmstand” in nautical terms, which hides the more technical equipment of the boat, achieving a calmer sense of home. In the living area, a hidden foldable desk is included in a cabinet, providing the needed spot for “boat office” activities. Additionally, another fully removable table with multiple options for attaching and usage is located in the kitchen area. Nevertheless, the design brings in as many outdoor views and as much fresh air as possible while maintaining privacy to this “inner world.”


Holistic design. The importance of craftsmanship.

On an environmental scale, the local landscape or seasonal weather also informs the design. The research in material quality and durability as well as the required mechanical devices that make this possible lead the concept into a craftsmanship level. The team consulted with the previous owner of the boat, who advised on aspects of the construction activities.

As Marianne phrased it: “Many technical details had to be considered since working on a boat is a special challenge by itself, considering that you cannot use water-scales to level anything.”

Needless-to-say, a design team in Beijing and a construction site in Berlin, with the pandemic situation prohibiting travel as a means for easy communication, added an unprecedented challenge to the project. Consequentially, the entire project was delivered in a virtual project management fashion and could only be finalized successfully due to the meticulous work within the design team and results-driven approach with key execution partners such as the local master carpenter. A friend of the client, who is living on a houseboat, added special insights to the very specific challenges and opportunities.


A living machine: technical and sustainable integration.

With an overall length of 14,69 m and a maximum width of 4,24 m, the boat includes a set of innovative solutions in terms of solar energy, heating source, water and waste management. Advanced technology and electronic features also make the boat “smart and self-powered.” This houseboat model is a future-proof prototype for living on the water. To further optimize the prototype, several characteristics were added withthe goal of improving efficiency,sustainability and cost-effectiveness.

“While the project was envisioned as a home for Marianne, we also conceived the boat as a unit of the city, which contained a comprehensive set of urban resources” – Binke Lenhardt, co-founder and partner of Crossboundaries, says.

From March to November and on sunny days in winter, the houseboat is fully self-reliant on its solar panels covering the entire roof and as well as one additional panel on each side. This allows it to travel approximately 50 km per day at an average speed of 7 km/h on sunny days. The boat is equipped with large battery storage in order to deliver the energy for the engines as well as the home appliance and technical needs of the boat. While March to November are usually the months with sufficient power generation, during the winter months the power supply is complemented with electric landlines.

A pellet stove was installed to satisfy the heating demand; the pellets are stored in the storage space beneath the flooring, called bilge on boats. These wood pellets are a source of renewable energy that is comparable in operation and maintenance with that of oil and gas heating systems. Moreover, this oven is remotely controlled by an app, integrating smart home features as a tool for design and as part of the domestic life.

In the future, the owner plans further ecological improvements such as a water purification system that reduces the reliance for fresh water supply from land as it filters the river or lake water that the boat is on into drinking water quality. A biological sewage treatment unit, also to be added as an upgrade to the ecological standard of the boat, will convert used water into drinking water, which will make the boat even more self-reliant, especially when taking off to long journeys.

The integration of these technologies supports the architectural concept, while providing comfort and meeting energy-saving standards that complete the comprehensive design of this “tiny home on the water.” Ideally, in the future, people can free themselves from too many possessions and embrace denser-but-quality spaces and thus achieve more flexible ways of life.