As political activist and 2010 New York gubernatorial mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan once said, “the rent is too damn high.” It has also been the case in London, where the average rent for a single room in a shared house soared to £933 ($1,109) in October 2022, a 17% increase since the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic, according to CNN. For architect and artist Harrison Marshall, the rising cost of living hit close to home in the summer of 2022 as he searched for an apartment in Central London. Dismayed by the high prices in the popular neighborhood, Marshall created his own tiny “Skip House” last December, using a dumpster as the foundation. A TikTok posted by London creator Jubel on March 3 of Marshall touring his house went viral recently, prompting some to question the sustainability and practicality of the new digs.
The tiny home was inspired by previous dumpster-related installations that Caukin, the social impact architecture company Marshall co-founded, completed with the art collaborative Skip Gallery. Marshall’s 25-square-foot house took about a month and cost £4,000 (~$4,871) to assemble and decorate. Before beginning construction in December 2022, Marshall had approached architecture nonprofit Antepavillion about their empty lot. He shared with Hyperallergic that using the eight-yard dumpster gave the house a sturdy base to build from that could also work as a strong visual statement for the art project: a livable environment where no one should ideally live.
“I wanted to hammer home the realities of the rental situation in London by creating something that could be considered better than many of the rooms on offer around London, even though it was in a dumpster,” Marshall said.
With the foundation and land settled, Marshall created his cozy cabin using an insulated timber frame and cedar shingles on the exterior walls. The barrel-shaped roof would create enough clearance, approximately 11 feet, for a lofted bed while maximizing floor space. To enter the home, Marshall climbs a small ladder and crouches through a hatch. Three windows with curved openings provide the room with ventilation and natural lighting. Marshall plans to live in his dumpster house on Antepavillion’s lot for at least a year.
The tiny house is fully functional: Marshall has rented a portable toilet, installed a metal basin with a drainage hole and bucket for a sink, and built storage space against two of the four walls. He carries water into the home from a neighboring property. He lived without electricity for the first six weeks, staying warm through February with blankets and heated water bottles until the house could plug into the city’s electrical grid. Since then, he’s been able to use his electric stovetop, heater, mini-fridge, lights, and dehumidifier. These appliances put his expenses at only £50 ($61) a month. He showers either at the gym or at the office.
However, some are skeptical of the project. “Imagine taking a woman back to your skip after a date,” TikTok user @dexterrjoe commented. Others wonder how much food Marshall can realistically store in his fridge. Marshall has qualified that the project is performance art, not a permanent solution for homelessness. Still, some question whether the statement addresses the rising cost of living or merely makes light of those who don’t have $4,000 to construct low-cost housing in Central London.
Despite the challenges, Marshall has enjoyed the experience so far. He was able to build a house exactly to his preferences and says the unconventional dwelling is a great icebreaker. “It can be hard to find a sense of community in such a big city,” Marshall said. “But with an easy conversation starter and a good excuse to host a neighborhood ‘skip-warming’ party, it made it a little easier.”