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Building a Tiny House

June 6, 2016

This summer students from the Architecture program will build a ‘Tiny House’ for Greensgrow, a community organization that employs urban agriculture to cultivate food, community, and entrepreneurship, thanks to a generous gift from Powelton Village resident, Hanley Bodek, who has developed and renovated housing in Philadelphia for the past 25 years. The Bodek ‘Tiny House’ Challenge is a three term competition/design/build studio in which students will learn about the tiny house movement, urban farming, permaculture, and design & construction of a trailer-based tiny house. The house is being constructed on the corner of 36th & Filbert, the former site of University City High School, thanks to the largesse of the uCity Square Group, the Wexford Science and Technology Group, and INTECH Construction. The Tiny House course sequence will be taught by Tim Kearney, AIA, Principal of CuetoKEARNEY Architects.

In a world of interconnected crisis, tiny houses present points of interest and interconnected solutions. From the standpoint of sustainability, a tiny house is a structure well suited to not only diminishing carbon footprints, but to potentially eliminating or reversing carbon emission trends. Properly insulated, tiny houses require very little energy input, and provide creative opportunities for the production or capture of that energy. Broadening considerations to include the source of materials and their corresponding carbon footprints (locally harvested and milled wood, recycled materials, sheep-wool insulation), tiny houses can be seen as a part of an emerging, re-localization of economy with the potential to create jobs, lower emissions caused by the transport of materials, and stimulate the circulation of wealth within local communities. Considered within a system, tiny houses also lead us to consider their various outputs and potential uses; water can be captured in rain barrels, and gray water cleaned via constructed wetlands, expanding to benefit ecosystems and agricultural projects. Tiny houses represent a taking of personal responsibility for our place within local and global ecosystems and economies. 

Tiny houses also challenge the general mindset of our Western society by asserting that less is more, leading to the reconsideration of what our human needs (physical, emotional, spiritual) really are. How much space do you really need? To what degree do typical housing arrangements lead to alienation in our modern communities? What does thriving interdependence look like? What are we capable of building ourselves?

The relative low-cost of constructing tiny houses also addresses various longstanding and arising issues. Young people, saddled with debt, narrowed job opportunities and pay, are much more likely to be able to afford a tiny house. Cities looking to house low-income and homeless individuals have built tiny houses in communities as a way of providing dignified homes for those with little resources. And, as mentioned before, once built, tiny houses cost little to nothing to power and maintain.

In a time in which it is becoming increasingly clear that we will have to radically rethink our society or suffer the consequences of climate change, tiny houses provide a platform for creative solutions and reconsidered values.

From the Tiny House Manifesto of Home Sweet Tiny Homes, LLC, an affiliated company of CuetoKEARNEY Architects.