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Christoph Fahle
March 12, 2012

Member of the Week: Le Van Bo

Enter Le Van Bo; architect, designer, and initiator of the Hartz IV Möbel project. Named after the national welfare system, Hartz IV Möbel is a DIY movement, centred around a series of basic, practical furniture pieces that are both simple and affordable to construct, making use of commonly-available, low-cost materials. Le has recently published a book, the Hartz-IV Möbel-Buch, which not only contains instructions for all the furniture projects, but also provides tips on cost-effective living in small spaces, as well as features on prominent members of the DIY community in Berlin.

Shopping for furniture, clothing, and other things we need in our daily lives, can be costly, time-consuming, and, above all, creates waste and supports wasteful industrial practices.

Enter Le Van Bo; architect, designer, and initiator of the Hartz IV Möbel project. Named after the national welfare system, Hartz IV Möbel is a DIY movement, centred around a series of basic, practical furniture pieces that are both simple and affordable to construct, making use of commonly-available, low-cost materials.

Le has recently published a book, the Hartz-IV Möbel-Buch, which not only contains instructions for all the furniture projects, but also provides tips on cost-effective living in small spaces, as well as features on prominent members of the DIY community in Berlin.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, what is the Hartz-IV Möbel project all about? 

Hartz-IV Möbel is a social design movement, and I am its initiator. The basic idea is that I try to create construction plans for furniture inspired by classic Bauhaus-era pieces, which are normally very expensive. For instance, a chair, which would typically cost around four or five thousand Euros, can be made, using one of my designs, for 24 Euros, in just 24 hours. I call it the ’24-Euro Chair’, and you can even find one in the betahaus café – just look for the green “Build Me!” sticker.

What inspired you, as a trained architect, to start such a 'social-design movement'?

It started out as a bit of a coincidence – I had constructed a chair for myself for the first time after attending a basic carpentry course at the local Volkshochschule (community centre). I had been designing wooden furniture, yet despite that, I had never even held a saw in my hand before - I had, as you might say, two left hands. So of course, this made me really proud. I then blogged about this chair, and told all my friends about how I built it. That was the beginning of the movement – I was so inspired by just how easy it was to build something so useful, and so were others.

DIY lamp, found at Open Design City

I am neither a product designer nor a carpenter – I had never even held a saw in my hand before making my first 24-Euro chair, and I’m still a complete amateur even today. When I created the 24-Euro chair project, I wanted to inspire those who are not only not designers, but who may not have enough money to buy all of their furniture, to simply create their own instead.The name and its reference to the welfare system is a deliberate provocation; to make it clear that this is not a project about design, form, or materials. For me, chairs and other basic pieces of furniture are a social issue, and not one of design, because the way in which one furnishes their home defines their wealth in a way. This project is intended for those who may be short on money, but who have good taste which they wish to express.

Has the Hartz-IV Möbel project been applied, or attempted, in any other cities, besides Berlin? Do you see this becoming a movement worldwide – somewhat in line with other “DIY-revival” trends (e.g. sewing, gardening, etc.)?

I know that there is definitely an increasing number of DIY projects like this one happening throughout the industrialised world. A lot of people are simply fed up with capitalism, and are starting to reconsider the actual value of products we normally buy at large-scale stores like Ikea or H&M - questioning why everything is so cheap. It doesn’t help that many of these companies cannot say just how, where, and by whom their products are made. Nowadays, more and more people are trying to regain power, particularly over what they consume. We see it with the Occupy movement, with guerilla gardening – the conversion of public green spaces into community gardens, and with something I organise called Guerilla Lounging, where unused public spaces are turned into “lounges” for the general public.

Le Van Bo's "Hartz-IV Office", Open Design City

The book is a very special project because it is not carried out in the normal way in which a book is published. Normally, one writes content, finds a publisher, and then publishes the book. What we are doing instead is finding readers, asking them to finance the book through donations on StartNext, collecting their stories, illustrations, and other content they submit, and then finally finding a publisher.

The fun thing about this project is that, because it's a collaborative effort, everybody can contribute to it in some way. This raises the question of quality control – many people wonder if this method would perhaps result in a patchwork of varying styles and quality. However, what this process revolves around is something called “crowd-storming” – a collective form of brainstorming, in which an idea is displayed to a public forum, and is open to feedback from just about anyone.

As for content; this book will contain not only all of the construction plans, but also some tips and advice on how to organise a small space in the best way possible. There’s one chapter, called ’99 ideas from the 99%’, in which we have collected 99 of the best ideas for various kinds of DIY projects. Another chapter is called the ‘Karma Economy’, where I try to summarize the things I’ve observed at companies who can successfully motivate people to do good with something other than money – something I call the “karma credit”.

We have a small number of copies available, and if you donate to the project on StartNext, you'll receive one. We’re hoping to find a large-scale publisher soon, though we'll try not to publish too many copies, as that would create waste - the one thing we're fighting against.

Le Van Bo will be holding a '1m² house' workshop on 31.03 at Open Design City, where you can learn how to build the smallest, fully-functional house imaginable!

In addition to the betahaus locations, we've formed a close relationship with some of the world's best coworking spaces. With your betahaus membership, you can work from any of our partner spaces for 1 day per month.

Coworking Spaces in Europe

Republikken // Copenhagen, Denmark // Vesterbrogade 26, 1620 København V, Denmark

Le Laptop // Paris, France // 6 Rue Arthur Rozier, 75019 Paris, France

Le Laptop - Coworking Paris

utopic_US // Madrid, Spain // Calle de la Colegiata, 9, 28012 Madrid, Spain

utopic_US - Coworking Madrid

Nest 71 // Saravejo, Bosnia & Herzegovina // Milana Preloga 12, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Nest 71 - Coworking Bosnia & Herzegovina


Toolbox // Milan, Italy // Via Agostino da Montefeltro, 2, 10134 Torino, Italy

Edspace // London, England // Block D, Hackney Community College, Falkirk St, London, UK

Bios // Athens, Greece // Pireos 84, Athina 104 35, Greece


CoWorx // Kristiansand, Norway // Markens Gate 8, 4611 Kristiansand, Norway

CRU – Loja / Cowork // Porto, Portugal // Rua do Rosário 211, 4050-524 Porto, Portugal

SPARK // Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina // Bleiburških žrtava, Mostar 88000, Bosnia & Herzegovina

StartUp Armenia Foundation // Yerevan, Armenia // 0019, 1 Marshal Baghramyan Ave, Yerevan 0019, Armenia

Tøyen Startup Village // Oslo, Norway // Hagegata 23, 0653 Oslo, Norway

Tøyen Startup Village - Coworking Oslo

Smart Coworking // Prague, Czech Republic // Václavské nám. 806/62, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia

Smart Coworking - Coworking Prague

Lighthouse // Tel Aviv, Israel // HaHaroshet 14-16 Ra'anana, Tel Aviv, Isreal

Lighthouse - Coworking Tel Aviv

Coworking Spaces in North America

Fueled // New York City, USA // 11, 568 Broadway, FL 11, New York, NY 10012, United States **Maximum 3 Days


Capital Factory // Austin, USA // 701 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701, United States

Público // Mexico City, Mexico // Puebla 403, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico

Coworking Spaces in South America

Area Tres // Buenos Aires, Argentina // El Salvador: El Salvador 5218, C1414BPV CABA, Buenos Aires, Argentina // Soho: Malabia 1720, C1414DMJ CABA, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Area Tres - Coworking Buenos Aires


HubBOG // Bogota, Colombia // Cl. 98 #18-71, Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Colombia

HubBOG - Coworking Bogota

Coworking Spaces in Asia

CIT // Taipei, Taiwan // 10452, Taiwan, Taipei City, Zhongshan District, 玉門街1號

CIT - Coworking Taipe


Of10 // Mumbai, India // Prudential, Ground Floor, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400076, India


Kibar // Jakarta, Indonesia // Jl. Prof. Moh. Yamin No.1, RT.7/RW.5, Menteng, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10310, Indonesia

Midori.so // Tokyo, Japan // Midori.so Nakameguro: 3 Chome-3-11 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tōkyō-to 153-0042, Japan // Midori.so Nagatacho: 2 Chome-5 Hirakawachō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 102-0093 // Midori.so2: 3 Chome-13 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 107-0062, Japan

Midori.so - Coworking Tokyo

Launchgarage Innovation Hub // Manila, Philippines // Level 2, Industria Mall, Circulo Verde, Calle Industria, Bagumbayan, Quezon City, 1110 Metro Manila, Philippines

Coworking Spaces in Australia

Independent Studios // Melbourne, Australia // 39/40 Porter St, Prahran VIC 3181, Australia

Coworking Spaces in Africa

Urban Station EGYPT // Cairo, Egypt // 2 Wadi El Nil Mohandeseen, Cairo, Egypt

Urban Station EGYPT - Coworking Cairo

Nairobi Garage // Nairobi, Kenya // Nairobi Garage, The Mirage, Chiromo Rd, Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi Garage - Coworking Nairobi


BONUS: Cowork & Relax at the Coliving Space, Coconat // Brandenburg, Germany // Klein Glien 25 14806 Bad Belzig, Germany // Get €10 off your stay


Toni: Currently, we’ve somehow ended up in this niche of building a lot of internal tools for startups and teams. But this is not the only thing we want to do. What I like about it is that we’re starting projects from scratch and we have full control over them. 

Martin: The first project we worked on was a tool for a large scale real estate development company. What they needed was a tool for their Sales people - to be able to mark their different spots and locations at different stages of the sales funnel. So we created a tool that helps them in this process.

Toni: And this one actually served as a starting point for the tool we’ve developed for  betahaus, which aims to allow the Sales and Management team to see which team rooms are occupied right now, which ones are free or will be occupied in a few weeks or months, so no double bookings appear. 

Alex: These two projects were more focused on real estate, let’s say, but we’ve also done more design-heavy projects like the one we did for Artique which is an online artists agency. For them, we built a whole website and an online system to present their artists starting only from their logo. It had to be very flexible, because the artists needed to be able to edit their own profiles, putting their resume, changing colours.

Toni: Honestly, we have skillsets that you don’t usually find in developers. Because we've had lives that were not just about computer science. I think to some extent this is what makes us different. 

Martin: I believe one of the reasons why people pick us over other studios is because it can be very hard working with developers. If you’re not understanding their work, if the communication is not flowing, you, as a client can feel lost. We're easy to communicate with and we’re always open to feedback and we're open to discuss anything. In the end, after all iterations, if you say we need to start the website from scratch and that you don’t like the idea, we won’t take it personally. 

Alex: Also, I think, since we all work as coding teachers, we are officially qualified to explain what coding is to people who don't code, which is actually really rare because a lot of developers, as Martin says, don't want to, or literally just don't know how to articulate what they're doing. Whereas we are trained in articulating what it is that we're doing, why it's meaningful and why it takes a certain amount of time.

Photo by Lea GK

Alex: Zimt & Mehl - the Turkish bakery around the corner. It’s just soo good.

Martin: Oh, there is this Italian restaurant called Ristorante del Arte

Tony: Oh, my God, this place is so funny. It looks like a pretty average Italian restaurant, but the whole interior design inside is just decorated in such a weird way. The entire place is covered in frescoes. They have crystal chandeliers and Easter bunnies. Some Greek columns. It has a different name on the menu, on the side and on the Internet. And it was an ex-shoe-store.

Want to get in touch with Obst Digital? Come around betahaus | Neukölln and meet them here or send them an email to contact@obst.digital !


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