The tiny, sustainable home offering chance to escape and retreat in the heart of Leeds city centre

When we think about retreating and escaping the hustle and bustle of life, a night’s stay in Leeds city centre may not be the first place that springs to mind.

By Rebecca Marano
Friday, 18th June 2021, 1:22 pm

However, one eco-conscious architect has designed a space that he hopes will give people a chance to experience that sense of calmness while in the heart of the city.

Commissioned by East Street Arts, artist Nicolas Henninger has constructed a tiny, minimalist cabin named ‘CABANON’ in the courtyard of the Art Hostel in Kirkgate.

The 8ftx8xt cabin has been built as part of the collective’s involvement in the UK-wide cultural programme Season for Change, which is inspiring action on climate change.

Artist Kieran Small from the Leeds Studio Assembly House fixing the Shingles to the CABANON. Photo: Gary Longbottom

It has been built using sustainable materials and participants from the local neighbourhood were invited to workshops during the build and installation to learn about Nicolas’ architectural process.

The cabin is now open to the public to spend a night or two, exploring their habitats and a more frugal way of life.

“I think the opportunity of the commission, being an architect, is to respond to the fact that the construction industry is also one of the big waste productions in the world”, Nicolas explains.

“That led me to think on two things; what material do we have available to make something simple, and could we create an architecture that could be compostable?

Artist and Architect Nicolas Henninger building the CABANON. Photo: Gary Longbottom

“I would say about 90 to 95 per cent of this pavilion is compostable so that's great.

“The first time I met East Street Arts I was very interested in the idea of the Arts Hostel and thought if I design something as an architect, it needs to be useful and usable.

“I had the idea of this little CABANON that would be built there that could be open to the public to spend a night in to question themselves.

“It is a timber construction, and everything is exposed in order to understand a little bit how it's built, nothing is hidden.

“But people can also experience it, spend a night and a moment in a small secluded space and tiny house type to actually question - what do I actually need? Do I feel comfortable?”

“So these are the ideas that [the CABANON] is tapping into all these questions, how do we minimise the waste by construction? How do you make an art commission useful?”

Nicolas is also interested in showing people that they don’t need to fly abroad, or travel for miles, to find a space to relax.

He said: “I think it's also the concept of being able to retreat, this idea of going away retreating somewhere, very close, that I found quite interesting.

“The Arts Hostel backyard is a bit secluded and sort of protected from the outside world.

“You don't need to drive miles, you should be able to find a little corner of paradise within your own city.

“We say we need to leave the city. Well maybe we need to look more carefully at the city and its corners, where could we hide and have a nice quiet space, where you feel protected, where you feel comfortable?”

People began staying in the cabin last week with East Street Arts inviting people from the local area to also come and experience the artwork.

Nicolas said: “Being able to do this project through East Streets Art is great because they are well embedded into the social realm of Leeds

“They can reach out to different communities around them who don't usually come to an exhibition or come to experience a piece of art so I think that's quite great.”

He added: “At the end of the day, it's a pretty simple project.

“There's no big science being invested into the design or making of this building.

“I want it to be really straightforward in a way that the construction seems also easy enough to understand just by looking at it.

“I really loved the idea of designing something accessible that people could learn to make themselves.

“People can easily find the knowledge to make it themselves - because it's not rocket science, you know.”

CABANON is in the Arts Hostel from June 7 to July 4.