Finding nature beyond your threshold 🏡
How Majamaja is developing the modern way of living off-grid…
The past year was chaotic, and we all had very different experiences within it, but I believe that one shared effect is that we all acquired a renewed appreciation for the importance of our homes and that of our living conditions.
Many among us had time to give some thoughts about their current abodes and many longed for a life closer to nature.
Tuomas and Pekka are the co-founders of majamaja, a purveyor of off-grid living concepts.
Let's start at the beginning: could you explain to us what living off-grid means?
Off-grid as a concept may have multiple definitions but for the built environment it usually refers to building solutions that may operate without connection to the centralized grids and sewage systems.
In the case of Majamaja, the first product is a compact wooden-built cabin that is prefabricated in a factory and assembled on-site even in locations that for traditional building are difficult or impossible to reach. The green energy and clean water are produced on-site with the patented green technology module and the grey waters are recycled and reused in a closed-loop system. The construction stands on a light foundation and can be dissembled and moved to a new location, and it leaves no trace behind.
This is our off-grid definition.
Put in a wider context, the Majamaja concept is driven by the need to radically rethink and minimize our ecological impact on the environment. And to show how small-scale architecture and small-scale technology can add flexibility to reduce the footprint in the sustainable land development process and replace big volumes and vulnerable centralized grid systems.
A major part of the ecological, and also financial, the footprint of the built environment lies in the centralized network development. Majamaja wants to cut it out.
It seems as though these experiences of disconnection from the regular urban world - whether short-term or as complete lifestyle changes - attract an increasing number of people nowadays, what do you think could explain that phenomenon?
We believe it is a combination of something very primitive of human beings combined with the evolution of the modern working realities. And our aim is to facilitate this disconnection in a well-designed and resource-optimized living experience with basic modern comfort.
On one side, there are some urban problems that work as push factors. Like traffic jams, air pollution, noise problem, waste water, lack of green spaces etc. Although they seem not to affect the global phenomena of increasing urbanization, these are issues that can and should be tackled with ambitious urban planning. We have some good examples, such as Paris where the city centre is getting reintroduced to bikes and pedestrians, at the expense of the private car, and where the city has a determined policy for increasing green areas in the city.
On the other hand, connecting with nature is a central part of human wellbeing. This often gets forgotten in the exciting and fast-paced urban crawl. In the Nordics or Japan for example, there’s a good tradition of academic research about the wellbeing effects of spending time in nature. For the Majamaja founder team, the first connecting point was a shared affection for spending time at the sea and the Finnish archipelago which is quite unique in the world. The boat experience touches the same emotional point as the idea about living off-the-grid: the feel of being self-reliant and independent. It is a strong feeling. And a very interesting point from the sociological point of view for developing a product like Majamaja.
In addition, the modest tradition of owning only the minimum and the functional is a trendy dream for many at the moment. In the Nordics, there’s a long tradition for it that can also be considered just as sparing and pragmatic. We like to say it just makes sense.
“the idea about living off-the-grid: the feel of being self-reliant and independent”
On the other hand, urbanization has been a strong driving force of population migrations for millennia, partly due to the amenities one can find in a city. Why would this edge disappear today?
Honestly we do not believe the urbanization trend will radically change or disappear in a global scale. It is too strong of a trend as cities offer work opportunities and social fun. There will certainly be more alternative living spaces in off-grid environments that are within a reachable distance from the urban centres, and we are already seeing it happening outside of European capitals like Paris, Amsterdam or in Helsinki where Majamaja has launched our own off-grid village or “urban gateway”. As an example, the project is in the Helsinki archipelago in a beautiful natural setting but only a 30-minute bike ride away from the city centre. The project is part of the Helsinki city’s strategy where they aim to activate new land areas with new services that have very high environmental standards. It is also a mean to boost the green economy in the region and facilitate flagship projects that will new bring international attention with a positive angle. This kind of off-grid experience will bring balance to the hectic life of urban centres.
One of the main technical aspects that support this development is the off-grid technology. It can ease out the heaviest burden of developing new areas which is very often the bureaucratic burden caused by the infrastructure issue. How to get access to energy, clean water and sanitation without the public X € million investment and the environmental harm caused by the grid connection? It will take time to create the new “off-grid standard” that will have a lighter bureaucratic path compared to the traditional buildings solutions. Majamaja is working on it.
In Helsinki, we cooperate closely with the city’s urban planning and construction departments. In France, we are at the current moment studying the legal context with a local business partner and the France Experimentation initiative managed by the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Bercy. The stance today is that a building solution like Majamaja is on a legal grey zone. The key advantages are the technical off-grid capacity, the mobile feature of the unit and the high-quality and locally adaptable architecture.
Think about the first mobile phones operating independently of the landlines. And think about wireless communication today. For the built environment, the new standard is in the making.
Some might have read a rumour that Airbnb has been developing a very similar physical housing product to Majamaja. Anyway, it’s a significant trend.
So now we find ourselves at the meeting point of those two factors: an increased willingness to change our way of living and a lowering of barriers to that change. How did this context give birth to majamaja? And what is the vision behind it?
We have a concept-oriented team that has background in architecture and building and green technology development and manufacturing.
Pekka the architect initiated the idea while designing his own project on a remote island right outside of Helsinki. Soon we and teamed up with Tuomas for the managing part and with the French engineers Vincent and Mathilde who are in charge of the technology development and started developing the concept together as a product to solve global problems. In addition, we have as Mathilde and Yannick in the French technical team and our wooden construction partners in Finland, France, and the Baltics.
The Majamaja vision is to radically rethink and minimize our environmental impact and to show how small-scale architecture and small-scale technology can add flexibility in the sustainable land development process and replace big volumes and vulnerable centralized grid systems.
“Some might have read a rumour that Airbnb has been developing a very similar physical housing product to Majamaja…”
Now, do you believe that the lockdown experiences around the world had an impact on your ability to promote your vision?
In our experience, COVID-19 has somehow only increased the interest towards the solutions like Majamaja. We get an increasing amount of demands that we honestly are not fully capable of responding to today. Most of the demands come from private individuals who’re dreaming of building their own house unit. For the moment, Majamaja is focused on project development that have a certain volume.
For the readers we would like to announce that we are looking for new dream land areas and properties for projects especially in France and the Mediterranean area. For the individual demands, we keep up a waiting list for an eventual future launch of the single unit sales.
In our experience, the increasing interest is partly due to emotional factors such as people rethinking their relationship to their living environment and the sustainability of their living habits and recreation. On the other hand, COVID-19 is imposing new technical requirements for the living environments. For example, some hospitality chains have approached us when looking for small accommodation unit alternatives to pivot from their mass tourism businesses. Or the water treatment technology we apply that has in third-party testing shown efficient results for filtering coronavirus out. These are very promising results.
Lucky for us, you have recently unveiled your first larger off-grid destination project on a seaside location in Helsinki.
Obviously, as Finns, starting in your home country makes sense, but could you also tell us why Finland is a great environment to give birth to your project?
Majamaja was officially launched in Paris with our three months demo building and showcase in summer 2019 at Station F. Still, the groundings of the majamaja concept are in Finland and more specifically in the Helsinki archipelago. Naturally, since the beginning we’ve been proactively looking for a larger development project in the Helsinki area and the ongoing discussions with the city – who’s also the main landowner of the region – came out fruitful and the Majamaja off-grid village project is now launched.
Traditionally, Finland and the Nordics has a strong culture of living in harmony with nature, with a wide network of summer houses that are traditionally in remote off-grid areas without access to the sewage system or sometimes even the electricity grid. To some extent, the Majamaja idea and thinking is a modern fruit of this tradition.
Moreover, Helsinki is a very interesting place to develop such a pilot project. First, Helsinki is a dynamic Nordic capital and one of the fastest growing capital regions in Europe with a lifestyle close to nature and general acknowledgment for high-quality architecture and design. The city itself is today is attracting an increasing number of international talents thanks to its good balance for work, social life and nature. In addition, the city of Helsinki has been very welcoming for the project and helpful throughout the process. We’re working together on various parts of the project such as finding the right regulatory framework for such a new kind of construction solution but also on the PR side when communicating about the project.
Working with the public sector is always a bit long and requires patience, but we believe that for an innovation company like ours, it is also a crucial stress test on the road to gaining wider society level relevance for what you to. In addition, cities and municipalities usually have a hold on a lot of interesting land areas. And for them, Majamaja is an attractive package: green, innovative, bio-sourced, resource-efficient, high-design, booster for local green economy and attractive for international media. Not to forget that, in Helsinki case the city is our landlord, so we do pay rent for them as well!
“Traditionally, Finland and the Nordics has a strong culture of living in harmony with nature.”
Before you leave, could you share with us your vision of the future of living in 20 years?
The built environment is one of the rare fields of industry that that has not seen the significant efficiency leap due to technology yet. The profitability has globally been almost stagnant for the past 50 years. The changes are slow, but also the stakes are gigantic.
The new development of small scale off-grid technology will allow a new kind of living development. Like it happened with the mobile phone revolution, many parts of the world that do not have developed centralized systems, will jump straight to the new small-scale technology units. In 20 years of time, the off-grid living will be a new standard alongside the traditional building. It will be an opportunity for new leisure homes, but moreover for temporary housing needs such as for urban immigration waves and in crisis areas.
Majamaja's goal is to sail the first wave of this development and lead with an example.
Many thanks to you both, we cannot wait to try the cabins for ourselves!