What started as an ambitious entry for a design competition has made Slovakian architect Soňa Pohlová and her partner into a team of ecological entrepreneurs. Soňa is part of a team of architects, who submitted a bid in 2009 for a competition to design a luxurious mobile home that could operate off-grid.
Their brain child, the Ecocapsule, is a self-sufficient 8.2 square-metre pod, equipped with solar panels, a silent wind turbine and water collection system that has proved to be so popular that the team continued the project for 8 years after the competition.
On the topic of the design competition submission, Soňa said: “Our entry received overwhelmingly positive feedback as well as requests from members of both the professional and broader public, interested in purchasing the prototype. So we decided to develop it to make it better. It started as a side project but now it is a full-time job.”
During the transition from architect to founding a start-up, Soňa and fellow architect Tomáš Žáček picked up a “lot of skills along the way” and adapted the way they worked.
“I think it is very good for us to see a different side of business,” Soňa said. “With a product, you just make it and the client knows what they are going to get – there’s not this whole process like you would do as an architect. You just sell them the product [Ecocapsule] and they can change its interior, but there is no interaction and negotiation like you would do if you were designing something for a client. This is the main difference between the two approaches.”
While Soňa enjoyed the new “freedom” that comes with entrepreneurship, she would like to continue working in architecture as well, striking a balance between the two.
“Entrepreneurship is like a way of life. You take all the responsibility because it’s yours, but on the other hand there’s the freedom that comes with it as you can decide which way you will lead,” Soňa said. “However with a business the creative process isn’t very long, while as an architect I will have many different projects, different clients and different needs. While the Ecocapsule is one project, it feels like a starting point, with many possibilities for interesting cooperation. So I think a combination of both is good for me.”
Her team’s product is based on being “respectful to nature” and the Ecocapsule has less of an impact on the environment than a regular home. This portable home leaves no trace when you move on and is self-sufficient – making it an ecological, off-the-grid dream home.
To ensure this is a home of the future, the team hired experts in the environment and sustainability sectors to ensure not only that the pod “leaves no trace” but also brings with it a sense of freedom and mobility.
Soňa said: “We wanted to make something that was respectful to nature so we hired experts to help us think about how we live and how we use energy. We want to educate people about how much energy they really need and to think about waste and usage. This is a long-term goal for the future. We need to think ‘do we really need the lights on?’ – this is one of the ideas behind the Ecocapsule.”
Energy for the pod is renewable, sourced through solar panels and a silent wind turbine, which is then stored in batteries for later use. With this energy, the pod can be off-grid all-year-round, and can even charge an electric car.
Ecocapsule has received celebrities’ seal of approval from Hollywood actor Susan Sarandon to tv-show host and comedian James Corden.
In light of the above, Soňa’s path to success was not straightforward, and while being a woman has not always been a boundary, Soňa says that business partners occasionally treat her differently.
“On a couple of occasions, I went to see business partners who had not been very polite to me or hadn’t taken me seriously. Particularly as a young woman, I feel you have to fight for respect a little bit more. I guess this is what comes with working in a field that is predominantly male.”
Currently the Ecocapsule is in the final stages of prototyping, with two final prototypes withstanding.
In the next year, Soňa and her team plan to produce 50 limited-edition homes which are pre-ordered on their website.