“Imagining people living the nomadic way is no longer just an abstraction — it’s achievable,” says Benke Lenhardt, one of the company’s founders. “At the same time, we are discussing our concepts of public versus private and temporary versus permanent.”
The firm’s client, Marianne, is German by birth, but has led a relatively uninhibited lifestyle, particularly over the past decade while living and working between Beijing and Berlin. Recently, she spent a short period living on a boat before joining a rowing club in the latter city. These experiences gave her a strong desire to spend more time near and on the water, culminating with the purchase of the houseboat in 2020.
Her idea was to create a self-sufficient shelter that would allow her to manage both short and long trips across Germany and Europe, thus challenging the idea of home as a fixed location. Following this request, Crossboundaries measured the boat’s weight, structural integrity, and design before undertaking an extensive renovation.
Unlike a traditional house – or most homes – the Fàng Sōng houseboat, as it is now known, has entrances on all sides, providing flexibility when moored. The bow of the boat descends to the galley area – complete with sink, oven and refrigerator – leading to the cockpit with wide window and control panel.
Here, a clever ‘turn-out’ bed doubles the functionality of the space, also masking the cockpit’s techy look to create a more indoor atmosphere. Nearby, a dining table can also be fitted in various configurations as needed, and hidden behind a sliding wall panel when not in use.
The control panel can be hidden almost entirely by a bed that flips down to float above the tech gadgets. “Marianne is very happy with this changeable approach, achieving a more subdued sense of home by hiding the more technical elements of the boat,” says Lenhardt.
“Since the boat is only 645 square feet, we needed to find storage solutions within the furniture so that no windows would be blocked around the exterior walls,” explains Lienhardt. The living area features additional adaptable furniture, including a large bed that converts into a sofa, a fold-out desk hidden inside a wardrobe, and a sliding shelf that can hold shoes and other small items.
Eastern and Western design conventions come together in a celebration of pattern and color. Red and yellow—China’s imperial colors—were chosen to evoke the time Marianne lived in Beijing, while tapestries with richly contrasting floral motifs and geometric shapes reflect the duality of natural elements versus the synthetic craftsmanship found in traditional Chinese gardens.
At the heart of the design is a focus on sustainability and a desire to deliver “near zero energy building solutions” – something Crossboundaries believes is the duty of all architects.
To these ends, the company has included an array of solar panels to power the boat’s engine and instrumentation. On sunny days during the spring, it is self-reliant for energy, and can travel about 30 miles a day at a rate of 4 miles per hour. An app-controlled pellet stove provides heat in the winter, and eventually Marianne hopes to install a water filtration system and a biological wastewater treatment unit.