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Portable Houses

Portable houses are getting more attention today than they've had since the western frontier closed. And this "new nomadism" concept calls for living small, taking advantage of new technologies, and being free to travel.

The idea of a portable house--of traveling while accompanied by our favorite possessions--is endlessly appealing. It starts when we are still children, listening with fascination to stories of pioneers living out of prairie schoolers for months at a time while slowly making their way out West. That sense of adventure does not leave us when we become adults; it just intensifies. The portable houses of today have to be cozy and warm, but they also have to be practical. They must fit with our idea of simplifying our lives, of living lightly on the land, yet must have a technological component. We may want to travel small, but we also want our favorite creature comforts--radio, CD, wireless Internet access, GPS, iPhone, iPad, and iPod.

Folks who enjoy living on the move cut across a broad spectrum--from young people just getting started to retirees following the sun. The portable houses they choose to call home cut across an equally broad spectrum--from old steel shipping containers to shiny Boeing jets, from vintage trailers to new RVs, from tents, tepees and yurts to floating homes, from remodeled sheep wagons to restored train cars.

While traveling around the country putting together this book, we met so many people who wanted to share their portable home ideas with us. One young architect, Mike Latham, designed a six-foot-square steel-and-acrylic box with a bed on top and storage below. Randy Carlson, who restores Volkswagen campers to their original condition said, "They have such a great demeanor, and they make you take a little more time with your travels." Jay Shafer, an art professor at the University of Iowa, build a tiny, charmingly Victorian home on wheels. It cost just $42,000 to build and used only 4,800 pounds of building materials. Page Hodel learned plumbing and carpentry from do-it-yourself books in order to turn a 1972 International Harvester school bus into a comfortable and road-worthy home.

Jennifer Siegal, associate professor of architecture at Woodbury University in Los Angeles and principal of Office of Mobile Design, has watched this trend develop over the past few years. She says, "You're not bound or rooted to place. It's an idea that goes back to nomads through history. I see our society responding quite well to that due to new technologies, the global economy, and other such factors." Throughout her career she has focused on various aspects of mobile architecture, designing several 40-x-12-fool mobile structures using packing crates and retired shipping containers.