NZ architects transform retro caravan into a mobile office

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New Zealand architectural firm Studio106 has recently converted a retro caravan into a mobile office space(Credit: Jo Wickham photography)

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New Zealand architectural firm Studio106 has recently reduced its urban 95-m2 (1,022-ft2) office space to a tiny 9 m2 (97 ft2) working mobile unit. With help from local business Retro Events, Studio106's director Dion Gosling and interior designer Kerri Cunliffe converted a retro caravan into a mobile office space, complete with cardboard desks and portable furniture.

The idea to create a mobile office space on wheels came to the team of architects and designers after enjoying a long Southern Hemisphere summer and the need to make a decision on their upcoming office rental review. The portable office concept enables the team to not only enjoy the outdoors for longer, but also travel and work directly on different project sites.

Gizmag recently got the chance to interview Studio106's director Dion Gosling and interior designer Kerri Cunliffe about their "Gone Mobile" experience. Here's what they had to say:

"The caravan just sort of came along as a solution to how we could get mobile and 'chase' the good weather around and explore the concept of a mobile office. Simply relocating to a smaller space by the sea side just wasn't as appealing as something on wheels – it really spoke to the exploration and freedom of summer road trips that we had all just enjoyed over the break. The caravan felt like an extension of the summer holiday whilst sneaking work into the mix. The inside was 9 m2, which was a significant reduction from our 95-m2 office in the city. But it didn't feel that small due to the ability to open up one side of the caravan and extend the office out."

Working alongside local businesses, Studio106 managed to keep its costs to a minimum, all the while completing the conversion in approximately seven days. The final result was a clean and fresh mobile office complete with a retractable wall, cardboard desks, outdoor furniture, computers and essential office equipment.

"The bones of the caravan were great so this made the task a little easier," the team says. "We employed the age old architecture motto 'less is more' and stripped the interior back, introducing an interior ceiling feature, soft furnishings and crucial office equipment. It was a great opportunity to review what we really need to work effectively – desk, chairs and computer were obvious, but books, our library, printers and other items were reduced."

The overall layout and design of the mobile office included a couple of "break-out" zones. The first is the inclusion of a flexible stand-up desk, offering the possibility to work or have meetings outdoors or in the shade of a nearby tree. The second zone is made up of a small whiteboard table and a few stools, allowing for a more permanent outdoor working zone, ideal for larger meetings, lunches or gatherings. Bringing some of the creativity from its previous office, the caravan includes a unique and handmade paper ceiling installation.

"Our favorite feature is the ceiling feature. We had previously created an installation for the wall of our studio. For this we collected a weeks worth of dis-used paper and scrunched it up to form a bit of feature. We repeated this process for the ceiling of the caravan. The result turned out great – it was lightweight, fun and creative. The effect gave us a more refined color pallet and a feature to brighten the interior."

Overall weight, mobility and security were the biggest concerns for the studio, as it was necessary to keep the office and all its equipment in a secure location overnight. Therefore the team decided to outfit the caravan with lightweight and portable furniture, allowing them to easily pack down and tow the caravan to a secure location after work each night.

"Everything that went into the caravan went through a bit of a screening process. Our desks in the office, although lovely, were far too heavy to tow and set up each day. We instead partnered with Refold, who have developed these fantastic cardboard desks which solved so many of our problems we had come up against. They were light and flexible – we could take them outside during the day, move them around and then pack them down at the end of each day."

While the Studio106 team may have left behind many luxuries of its previous large urban office space, the new tiny mobile space meant they could now easily work on site and directly with their clients.

"Being on the site opened up new insight into the site. We ended up chatting to lots of local users and gained real learnings into what they enjoyed about the site or what they wanted to see change."

"Small spaces are a great challenge and we love this" add Gosling and Cunliffe. "We work on many 70s town house alternations, which are small spaces on often tight sites. As we did with the caravan we seek to solve challenges that are associated with small, tight spaces with poetic solutions. Solutions that go beyond meeting functional requirements and add a touch of fun or beauty to them. We think there is often a danger that people fall into when renovation or designing a small space, in that they provide a functional solution. With the caravan we wanted to tick off all the functional requirements whilst also creating a fun and enjoyable atmosphere."

The "Gone Mobile" office experience has given Studio106 great insight into what it means to live and work in small spaces and the added bonus of being able to engage with the local community and businesses. The architectural studio plans to continue its exploration and development of small, creative and mobile conepts, including participating in Auckland's PARK{ing} day later this year.

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