Tiny house on top of a warehouse designed to look like air duct

In the world’s most unaffordable cities, architects are coming up with creative ideas for cheaper housing, but has the situation become so dire that people will live in air vents?

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At first glance, the shingled grey HVAC construction on top of a warehouse building looks like a standard air vent, but it’s actually a microhouse that’s a prototype for low-cost living.

PUP Architects named their project after what it’s meant to look like, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), commonly installed on rooftops.

The two-storey structure has the capacity for six people but doesn’t have a kitchen, running water or insulation, yet.

It’s set up on top of an old industrial warehouse at Hoxton Docks, a complex of artists’ studios on Regent’s Canal in East London.

PUP Architects modelled the pavilion on a duct after finding a loop-hole that allows mechanical rooftop equipment to be built without planning permission.

“While permitted development exists for large-scale infrastructural roof installations, little challenge has been made for other viable and productive uses for rooftops,” PUP Architects said.

The HVAC was picked from 128 designs for the Architecture Foundation’s Antepavilion program, an annual commission sponsored by property developer Shiva.

Exploring alternative and sustainable ways of living and use of recycled materials were all part of the competition brief.

The timber-framed pavilion is covered in a skin of waterproof shingles made from recycled Tetra Pak, a plastic used to make milk cartons and drinks packaging. Related: Housing affordability an issue for the next 40 yearsRelated: Tiny homes in the wilderness make the most of space

Each shingle has the lower corner left loose, allowing the breeze and natural light into the pavilion.

Its appearance was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek comment on the limits of local planning legislation.

“We wanted to provoke a conversation about why, if you can build this type of strange plant equipment on the rooftop, why can we not use it in a more positive way, to inhabit and liberate all these hundreds of thousands of square metres of rooftop space?”

The Architecture Foundation, which chose this project as the winning design, favoured its subversion of planning laws as a way of building more affordable housing.

“We thought, if you’re going to build a pavilion, you might as well give it a political slant,” The Architecture Foundation’s deputy director Phineas Harper told Dezeen.

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