Living in a Crack: Keret House in Warsaw, Poland

© Centrala used in accordance with Fair Use Policy
© Centrala used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Less than 4 feet at its widest point, Keret House, the narrowest residence in the world, isn’t for the claustrophobic.

Polish architect Jakub Szczesny is famous for radical thinking inside a very small box. One day, as he walked through Warsaw, he had the idea that he could fit a very small domicile in a narrow 5 foot gap between an old tenement and a tower block at 22 Chłodna Street and 74 Żelazna Street. His drawings, which debuted in 2009, were considered a fantastic flight of fancy that would most likely never be built. In 2011, the architecture collective Centrala took on the expensive and innovative project.

The result is Keret House, named after its first resident, Israeli writer Etgar Keret, who used the space as a work studio. Keret’s personal ties to the area are deep. The house lies within the former Warsaw Ghetto, where the Nazis deposited and confined over 400,000 Jews. Keret’s mother, Orna, was one of them. As a child, she slipped through cracks in the ghetto to scavenge food for herself, her father, mother and younger brother. By chance or synchronicity, this structure is built in the very place of a Nazi checkpoint. She had to sneak past soldiers here every day in order to return successfully to her family, who all perished in those horrific and unimaginable days, leaving her alone in the world. The idea of living in this crack in Warsaw gave him a chance to interface with her story in a powerful and transformative way.  If you would like to read his thoughts, please click here. Although Keret House contains amenities that Orna could not have imagined during World War II and none of the terrors of that time, it presents its own challenges. It is as if the stubborn persistence of humanity has found a way to take root in an impossible place, much like a weed growing up through a sidewalk.

The building itself is incredibly small, with an interior living space that is, at most, 47 inches wide and, at its narrowest, a slim 28 inches. The entire space is about 46 square feet. Polish law doesn’t allow for a residence to built to such small specifications, so it is classified as an art installation. The steel frame is covered by a thin semi-transparent polycarbonate sheeting that allows sunlight in, keeping the building light and airy, and maximizes the size of the former alleyway. There are two windows, which do not open, and the interior is painted white to guard against claustrophobia. Electricity is obtained from a neighboring building, while Keret House has its own water and sewage technology, unconnected to Warsaw’s water systems. 

Video via Deutsche Welle English on YouTube.

There is a bedroom on the second (top) floor, while downstairs contains a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room. The kitchen accommodates a tiny sink and stovetop as well as a refrigerator with space for two beverages. If you need to use the restroom after drinking all that liquid, the bathroom is separated from the kitchen by a sliding door which doesn’t look completely opaque. That would be a deal breaker for me, I think. Oh, and you can take a shower while you’re on the toilet, if you’re in a hurry.

In the kitchen looking into the toilet      with CCLicense
In the kitchen looking into the toilet with CCLicense

There’s a ten foot ladder at the street entrance. This leads to a large trapdoor, sort of a glorified attic access door, that you need to clamber through and close so that you can stand on it. This is the apartment landing, from which you can climb a short ladder to get onto the first floor. You need to be reasonably fit as well as small to live here, and sleep walkers should not try it. Changing floors means climbing ladders installed in the space. If you feel like Spiderman, Szczesny says you can even climb on the steel structure itself. It’s an ideal space for an artist who doesn’t want any distractions and is guaranteed to curb the impulse for hosting wild parties. Apparently, eight people once fit in the Keret House simultaneously, but no one left with any desire to do that again!





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