Urban Off-Grid: 12 Creative Solutions For Self-Sustainability in the City

Off-grid housing is almost always relegated to remote areas due to strict urban building codes and access to affordable land, but sometimes self-contained structures pop up in parks, on rooftops and in canals anyway – or the owners of more conventional city dwellings simply cut the cord. There are already a lot of different ways to go off-grid in the city, most explored by necessity due to poverty, others seeking a more sustainable way of life without giving up community and convenience. From rooftop structures and mobile housing to entirely new self-powered city blocks, these solutions work within cities that already exist rather than envisioning expensive futuristic eco-cities from the ground up.

The Mobiators


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Somewhere between a DIY cabin, a tent and a mobile home, this strange structure by The Mobiation Project travels through Amsterdam, setting up in locations all over the city as a statement about the increasingly broken global economy and damage to the environment. Built by an artist/architect and a carpenter/designer, The Mobi-01 acts as an interactive, inhabitable, ‘open-house’ example of an off-grid structure that can set up virtually anywhere.

Off-Grid Rooftop Penthouse in Canada

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Reclaiming the rooftop space atop urban structures isn’t a new idea, but it’s rare to see them disconnected from the power grid, like this former mechanical room on a 19-floor office building in Edmonton, Canada. Architect Vivian Manasc saw potential in the structure when doing a technical evaluation of the building, and ultimately transformed it into a home for herself. The home horseshoes around an existing elevator core, which warms the space passively, and gets its power from solar panels.

Free Off Grid Camping on a NYC Rooftop

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Bivouac is a pop-up campsite rotating to different rooftop spots around New York City, consisting of little more than six waterproof canvas tents with wooden frames and wool floor mats, a kitchen area with a table, and a small library. There’s no internet, electricity or showers, and you can’t have a campfire, but at least there’s access to a toilet within the building. It’s entirely free, and an interesting concept, though one wonders what this project says about accessing urban spaces when you’re well-off just for fun versus the tent cities created by homeless people who have nowhere else to go.

Off-Grid Urban Block for Dallas, Texas

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What if entire city blocks could be designed to power themselves, built in areas that were previously disused, like former industrial properties or rail yards? Winner of the Re:Vision Dallas competition, ‘Forwarding Dallas’ envisions a complex of living spaces inspired by rolling hills, with vegetation-covered roofs, solar panels, wind turbines, and passive solar louvers covering the building’s glass facades to regulate heat. The block also has its own rooftop water catchment system, a greenhouse, a swimming pool and other communal spaces. The 40,000-square-meter complex could sustainably house 854 people within the space of a typical city block.