The isolated cabin in the forest: a romantic symbol of the human aspiration to individual freedom. (imago / Cavan Images)
Today, huts can be luxurious or even urban. The idea of the wobbly, twisted wooden cabin is outdated and yet the most modern cabin has something in common with the simple cottage and the simple hermit barracks.
When 20-year-old medical student Georg Büchner smuggled a rebel pamphlet disguised as an agricultural journal to a secret printing house in Offenbach on the night of July 5-6, 1834, he had smuggled the pamphlet of eight pages with a slogan that was explosive should go beyond the actual occasion: “Peace in the Huts!” War on the palaces!
The call for revolution in the Grand Duchy of Hesse was a call for revolt against the oppression of the rural population especially in a society still characterized by class structures. Compared to the seigniorial domain of the nobility, the cramped and poor dwelling of the simple peasant becomes a symbol under which the liberal and democratic movement unites.
From the original cabin to the art of living
The Roman architectural theorist Vitruvius had already begun his reflections with the original hut. He dedicates the first part of the second of his “Ten Books on Architecture” to “The Origin of Buildings”. The discovery of fire leads to sociality, language and community.
But the new community needs a place, so people are starting to build huts, dig caves and keep improving these simple dwellings. Ingenuity and competition soon lead to more complex architectures, houses with foundation walls, stone walls and roofed roofs.
A “primitive hut” in Austria (imago / Stefan Rotter)
The Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier was a big fan of the cabin. In 1952, he built his “Cabanon” on the Côte d’Azur, the only building he designed for himself (or his wife). A small rustic log house, with a floor plan of 3.66 meters by 3.66 meters, with a ceiling height of 2.26 meters.
He is convinced that architecture is “the direct expression of human instincts”. And as such, it is an art. There is a primordial mathematics there which brings order to the chaos with the first hut.
Reduction without looking poor
The assumed average standard height of a man is the starting point of a geometric series obeying the specifications of the golden ratio. It makes it possible to determine the values for the ceiling height, the length and the width of the room according to the human architecture of Le Corbusier.
Reduction here becomes a condition of a house which must not be poor, which wants to create an atmosphere of abundance by restriction and recourse to simple forms. A cabin that impresses with its proportions and its own play with its environment.
Interior view of Le Corbusier’s Cabanon in France (picture alliance / dpa / MAXPPP / Jean François Ottonello)
Le Corbusier designed the interior of the little house down to the smallest detail. Each piece of furniture had its place, its function. Living here should be imagined as a daily routine of practiced hand movements, as a repetitive sequence of precise movements and gestures.
Daily life is easier here than elsewhere.
The cabin as a place of philosophical reflection
The impalpable fairy tale, sometimes also disturbing, colors the image of the cabin in Germany more than that of the French “Cabin”.
The little house is associated with the romanticism of a confident stranger, a nonconformity that trusts its own judgment. The cabin is less a hiding place than a place to be authentic.
The hobbit’s cave from “The Hobbit” in New Zealand (imago / Fran Mares)
Especially when it’s like that of the philosopher Martin Heidegger in the Black Forest far above the urban bustle of the plain. Built in 1922 above the village of Todtnauberg, it was initially without electricity or running water. “Off-grid”, we would say today.
Heidegger is not the first philosopher to live in a simple dwelling. Diogenes had his barrel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau his “refuge” in the park of Ermenonville and Ludwig Wittgenstein his house at the end of the Sognefjord in Norway.
Hardly any other philosopher before Heidegger celebrated his hut life in such a striking way. Those who really wanted to get closer to the thinker of being did not meet him at the university, but made a pilgrimage to him in Todtnauberg.
Hut life – the way to slow down
On July 4, 1845, the failed teacher and moderately successful writer Henry David Thoreau moved into a simple wooden house in Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts. He was going to live in this hut for two years.
The literary treatment of the stay, “Walden or Life in the Woods”, published in 1854, became a bestseller, and Thoreau himself became one of America’s most notable writers and thinkers. He sees humanity in danger of losing the very calm it needs to be able to perceive the world at a pace that suits it.
Writer Henry David Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond (picture alliance / AP Images / Frank C. Curtin)
Thoreau seeks slowness as a means against acceleration in modern times. Not as a break and relaxation, but as a prerequisite for a new awareness of what is really important in life.
Triumphant advance of the Tiny House
As a space, the cabin is outside the laws of everyday life and is therefore a place of self-sufficiency and independence. This is precisely where their utopian potential lies.
The so-called Tiny House movement that emerged in the early 2000s is also inspired by this utopia of a different life. Whoever builds a hut today usually does not do so mainly because of a lack of space or a lack of money. Much more often the conscious decision is made for a simpler and more conscious life in nature.
On September 15, 2008, when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy, the US real estate and subprime crisis peaked. After years of a construction boom with unscrupulous loans, the bankruptcy of the New York investment bank set off a chain reaction, which saw people, especially in the United States, in their ranks. without work in the street.
In a country of suddenly up to five million homeless people, living space has taken on a new and urgent meaning. The fundamental question of how people should live at the start of the 21st century has also been raised again.
Instead of a large property, the small, quickly paid for, easy to maintain, and potentially mobile home now seemed a sign of independence and freedom. This is how a movement that started in Iowa in the late 1990s found new support. Here, drawing teacher Jay Shafer had become a pioneer and godfather of a new form of “claustrophilia” with his first so-called “Tiny House”.
Self-determination and individual freedom
Shafer combines the idea of mobility with the American dream of self-determination and individual freedom in a fundamental way. The Tiny House is not only an opportunity for him to free himself from false material expectations. In a Thoreau style, he also depicts his life in the hut as a protest against his country’s building regulations, which, with their minimum living space dimensions and area regulations, prevented people from building their own shelter. according to their own needs.
The reduction to the essential is more than particularly practical, it leads you finally to the original form. It becomes the expression of the forces of order that permeate the cosmos as well as the human imagination and culture. The “original hut” is understood as the “original sign” of a universal symbolic language determined by “sacred geometry”, “sacred geometry”.
The Tiny House movement combines different trends of our time: The desire for liberation from ballast, new sensitivity and closeness to nature continues the counter-cultural chapter in the history of the hut.
A living utopia for the 21st century
The dissolution of urban agglomerations in favor of scattered mini-houses would lead to a dramatic urban sprawl. As much as indoor space use is optimized, even the smallest of these homes simply consumes too much outdoor space.
In addition, the heating energy needs of a room closed all around by external walls exceed by several times the consumption of apartments sharing walls with their neighbors.
‘Loftcube’ by Bavarian architect Werner Aisslinger in Berlin (picture alliance / dpa / Robert Schlesinger)
In search of new lifestyles, the Berlin designer Werner Aisslinger presented his “LoftCube” in 2003. The futuristic-looking little house is not designed as a cabin for the forest, but as a loft above of the city skyline.
The Cube can be dismantled relatively easily, transported in two containers overseas and transported to its new location by crane.
And yet it is certainly not a refuge for simple migrant workers. With its 39 square meters of exclusive fully glazed living space, it is the utopia of life confidently designed for the urban nomadism of the 21st century. With four feet in the middle, the “LoftCube” looks a bit like a UFO about to land.
Is the return of the hut just the next logical step in a long development? The civilization returning to its beginnings in the digital age?
Ultimately you come to the conclusion: As small as the hut by definition is, so many different life plans, worldviews and ideals, so many utopias and sometimes dystopias fit into it.
Le Corbusier: “Regard sur une architecture”, Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2013
Vitruvius: “Ten books on architecture”, translated by Franz Reber, Anaconda Verlag, Cologne 2019
Martin Heidegger: “Building – Living – Thinking”, Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt 1952
Henry David Thoreau: “Walden or life in the forest”, Bibliothèque Manesse, Cologne 2020
Jay Shafer: “The Little House Book”, Fabian Goppelsröder Tumbleweed Tiny House, Sonoma 2008
Heinrich Tessenow: “Construction of houses and others”, Grünberg, Weimar & Rostock 2011
The full script for This Long Night is available here.
A production of Deutschlandfunk Kultur / Deutschlandfunk 2021.