Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” I use that phrase a lot when people complain about the price of everything from furniture to tiny houses; short production runs and quality materials mean higher costs. But even I choke occasionally, such as with this visually stunning new prefab from VIPP, a Danish company that has been working with steel since 1939, starting with an iconic wastebasket that’s now in the Museum of Modern Art.
The VIPP shelter is a beautiful object, all glass and steel, 50,000 pounds of superior workmanship and design. 592 square feet of felt-lined modern living. It gives new definition to the word “turnkey”- there are no options whatsoever. It’s “a plug and play getaway.”
Indeed, they have chosen everything from the bedsheets to the toilet brush, it is all included. The specifications are top of the line, from the VIPP kitchen to the electric radiant concrete floors to the 10 inches of insulation. It is indeed a stunning minimalist modern object of desire.
And then it all begins to fall apart, perhaps in this interview with designer Morten Bo Jensen, who says:
The biggest difference between this getaway compared to anything else on the market is the fact that I am not an architect. The shelter is conceived more like a product than a piece of architecture that melds seamlessly with its surrounding. We didn’t start with a piece of land on which we customized a house taking into consideration the natural surroundings. There is plenty of amazing architecture out there, but we wanted to conceive something different; an escape in the form of an object designed down to last detail, where the only choice left to the customer, is where to put it.
But architecture doesn’t work like that. You cannot design a building with a wall of glass and claim that it will work “in the darkest forest or the brightest desert”; put this object in full sun, with no shading and that wall of glass and black steel and it will be uninhabitable.
The loft will be an oven, even with the one opening window. But nobody will use it anyway; just try spending one night where you have to climb a steep ladder and then crawl up from the bottom of the bed. You will sleep downstairs on the second night.
Then there is the small matter of cost, which I usually downplay, but $US 585,000 is a lot of money for 592 square feet, for 50,000 pounds of glass and steel. That is actually the same price per pound as a BMW Series 2 Coupe; you can do your own price per square foot calculation. That also does not include land, delivery, crane rental, or site services like septic or electricity. And add 12% for US east coast delivery.
On another design website they title their post The Vipp Shelter is a plug-and-play prefab home that can be placed just about anywhere. If only it were. However you cannot call something “plug and play” if there are no plugs. So you may not have to buy a toilet brush but you have to buy infrastructure, which is surprisingly expensive and difficult.
Perhaps I am just bitter, because I spent two years trying to sell a high end minihome and ran into all these problems of connections and zoning bylaws and lofts and costs. I just look at this and see every problem that I had writ large. There are a dozen reasons that this kind of building cannot be placed just about anywhere; perhaps it will work in a nice Scandinavian climate with lots of shade and hopefully no mosquitoes.
I shouldn’t be so critical, it is a beautiful thing and I hope they sell like VIPP wastebaskets, also overpriced iconic objects of desire. But at least a wastebasket really can go anywhere and doesn’t have to be plugged in. Lots more beautiful documentation and photographs at VIPP.