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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!

The new space is six stories spread out across 2800 sqm. We’ll be renovating the building with our members in mind, so here’s what we can promise:

  • 5 Floors of Coworking Areas
  • Event Spaces
  • More Meeting Rooms
  • More Team Rooms
  • More Call Boxes
  • A Rooftop Terrace
  • A Café

We'll be updating The Move landing page with photos as we have them, so watch out for that!

when do you need a notary?

We’ll open the doors of our new space between mid-August and mid-September 2018. We plan to begin moving in July to ensure that the space is functional and comfortable by the time you get there. Bottom line, we’ll do everything we can to make the move as seamless as possible.

The move is our third big announcement of 2018 following the news that we’re be expanding our operations with betahaus | Tirana and managing coworking for Berlin’s new blockchain space, Full Node

The idea behind betahaus was never to be just a coworking space. We wanted to create a platform where people of our generation could thrive personally and professionally. We’ve always thought we could do this on a much bigger scale and we’re thrilled to see it happening. We’re excited about what we’re able to learn from this move, not just for betahaus, but for the future of coworking in Europe.

We’re sure you have a lot of questions about what’s coming next. 

We want to hear from you! Email us at themove@betahaus.com or join us for a closed Town Hall where we’ll answer all of your questions and talk through any concerns. We’ve also started members-only page for FAQs, resources, and important dates about the move (check your inbox!). 

We've got some big changes ahead of us, but one thing's for sure: we're so glad to have you with us for the ride!

We're looking forward to this new challenge, and will keep you updated along the way. Get in touch with any questions you might have about Full Node!

Not a blockchain startup but looking for a coworking space? Be sure to check out the flexible membership options at betahaus!

Finally, You describe your target group as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), which is a very niche market. Can you tell us more about what type of people they ARE and what theY value? What's some advice you can share to other startups targeting this market?

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