For my masters project, I pulled together my areas of interest that had developed throughout my undergraduate degree: digital fabrication, building envelope science, and design of efficient and beautiful spaces. Through the generosity and support of Carleton University and many of its staff, I was afforded the opportunity to design and build my own tiny house that explores the potential that digital fabrication creates for architecture. This project resulted in my masters thesis, an episode on HGTV’s “Tiny House Big Living,” and becoming the keynote speaker at World Architecture Day PEI.
Thank you to all of the amazing volunteers that donate their time and energy to helping me complete this project!
I believe the way we design and make buildings is transiting through a major point in history where the flow of ideas through to workmanship is being restructured. As the format changes, opportunities are emerging to provoke a new wave of design innovation. Architecture also finds itself caught between two urgent and evolving world crises; the global housing crisis and the climate crisis. Through a full scale housing experiment, taking shape as a design-build research tiny house, I explore a prototypical alternative housing project aimed at exploring the capability of digital fabricated design, what it takes to build an affordable sustainable home, and how spatial organization can pull everything together to advance how we think about building 21st century housing.
Exploring the Digital Workflow
The house that I wanted to build would express the potential of digital fabrication tools in doing more than simply replacing manual labour. When considering design styles for the building’s components, a self imposed mandate was created that each element should be either impossible or prohibitively time consuming to complete in any other way than through digital fabrication. By inserting this rule, my design would be forced to explore the potential of these tools and innovate based on the capability of constructing in this manner. Ultimately, I hoped to contribute to the development of a new language of digital design that can create spatial experiences unlike other historical precedents which were bound by different constraints.
In regards to sustainable design, I wanted the housing prototype to achieve a low environmental impact from cradle to cradle, while also being affordable to construct and maintain. The ability to build sustainably is rendered irrelevant if the cost incentive clearly favours the unsustainable solution. I selected an experimental low cost solar thermal system that would be the sole heating source throughout a Canadian winter. The lowest embodied energy construction materials needed to be chosen when weighed against their useful life cycle, and ability to be disassembled and reused. The building needed to last 200 years and be comprised of parts that are easily replicated, repaired, and replaced.
Small Space Design Methodology
The final goal of the design was to create a minimized floor space dwelling, while maximizing all other functionalities and qualities that contribute to an attractive home. In North America, the larger the size of a space and its desirability are often entwined. Realtors post square footage alongside price when selling or renting a home and it has become a ubiquitous metric for the usefulness and desirability of a given space. Good design is often a secondarily important criteria once a minimum floor area has been established. I wanted to see if that value set could be flipped and create a home that is designed to be compelling in spite of its small square footage.
The floor space available for interior living on the tiny house trailer was 180 square feet (16.72 m²). This ruled out designing for families but allowed for tailoring to young couples, single occupants, empty nesters, or students working within the priorities of North American clientele. I believed that if I could reduce the size and material usage of a building, some of the cost savings associated with material savings could be reapplied to increased functionality and add finishing quality to the overall design. The goal was for this tiny house to be competitive with a typical 500 square foot bachelor condominium offering in North America.