Kodasema – Modular, Affordable, Sustainable

Estonian company Kodasema has embarked on a journey to tackle the global housing crisis and sustainability in one step – its modular houses offer simplicity and freedom while saving energy and space.

As countries all over the world are facing a housing crisis, with a serious shortage of homes for expanding populations, and many living in substandard housing conditions or being homeless, Tallinn-headquartered Kodasema that was established only five years ago has managed to grab global attention with its novel house concept.

The company creates modular living and housing solutions known as KODA houses. Built off-site and transported to the location, they can be set up in a day, and swiftly relocated or changed to meet a new purpose.

CEO Birgit Linnamäe says: “The idea behind the company was to stop wasting energy, to create an innovative, affordable housing solution that would address the need to provide an increased number of dwellings while at the same time respecting the principles of sustainability.”

A significant milestone for the company came in 2017, where its housing concept won an award at the WAN Urban Challenge 17 – London’s Housing Crisis. “The prime idea of the challenge was to create living spaces in London that 80% of people would also be able to afford. According to statistics, only 16% of the city’s inhabitants can afford 80% of the spaces. We believe that architecture needs to be affordable so that more people in the world can experience high-quality buildings,” affirms Mrs Linnamäe.

The interest in KODA houses has skyrocketed over the last few years, demonstrating their universal appeal. Mrs Linnamäe who has herself lived in many countries and speaks 11 languages, admits that the company management were themselves a bit struck by the attention the concept stirred regardless of the location. “We have created something that clearly speaks to people in northern Europe as well as in the Middle East, in North and South America as well as in Australia.”

Contemporary dynamic space

“In just five years, we have emerged to be an international design and engineering company – to be successful, our houses need to be well made, efficient and well-engineered, digitised in its design and its production methods, saving energy not only across their lifespan but as they are being made,” she explains.

KODA, aiming for minimum viable space, is a free-standing compact house designed to be installed and uninstalled in a multitude of locations and functions and can be easily transformed many times over, responding to the evolving needs of humans today: from hotel to office, from café to hair salon, showroom or a student home.

The principle of KODA design is to remove everything that can be removed while keeping the house equipped as individually desired. The basis of this is that KODA is cleansed of stylistic elements – the lack of ornaments and motifs is one of the aspects that make KODA so universal.

The company’s flagship product is the 26 m2 KODA Loft, a house containing all living necessities while enabling stacking two units of its own kind on the roof. The mere 30 m2 of land per unit means that KODA can be placed in almost any available space. The modular houses can be connected and stacked to create bigger areas, mini villages and entire lifestyle or co-working communities. Made from sustainable timber, the houses have excellent insulation results, with minimal running costs.

“Sustainability and a minimal CO2 footprint have been the founding principles behind the company. By living smaller and consuming fewer things, the footprint an individual leaves on the environment is also considerably smaller,” says Mrs Linnamäe, pointing out that this attitude is passionately shared by the whole Kodasema team – a highly diversified group in terms of skills, professions and nationalities, and strongly female-led.

Sustainable space

The houses for European markets are produced in Estonia and shipped as one complete unit to their destinations. Key markets include the German-speaking countries and Benelux, followed by the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Further afield, the houses are produced under a licence in local micro-factories to take advantage of local resources while retaining the design and the key elements. There is a rapidly growing Kodasema operation in the US and the first steps have been taken towards production in Australia.

“The greatest challenge is the very different regulatory housing framework in different countries. There is no universal Building Code in Europe for example,” says Birgit Linnamäe, adding that also the approach to novel urban architectural concept varies significantly, with some – like Germany – being more welcoming, while others stick to their traditional perceptions, insisting on certain minimum national space requirements per person.

“One of the principles on which our company was created was the understanding that current urban planning is outdated. Quite simply, people no longer live the way cities were planned and developed in the past and new solutions matching the current way of living are needed. We are passionate about what we are doing and we believe that we are making the world more liveable and more loveable.”

She points out that while sustainability is at the core of the business, affordability is just as important. Kodasema keeps on exploring and investing in new sustainable solutions while keeping the price reasonable. For example, the company’s affiliate innovation team has designed Spacedrip, a closed water purification system, which makes it possible to set up KODA communities in areas with limited or non-existent infrastructures, and areas that do not attract investors.

Reflecting on the future, she believes that the next few decades will see the construction industry change. “We all need to work together to make cities and communities safe and sustainable and to start building houses as well as cities in an environmentally responsible way. What we need more of are inclusive communities that support fragile ecosystems. We need communities that are built to meet the needs of women, children, the elderly, and ensure a safe home for everyone, so we can learn and grow as a society. KODA is a building block for this process.”

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