Students design, build ‘tiny’ homes for Austin homeless

Ben Bigelow

Gabriela Campagnol

Miniature residences destined to house the chronically homeless, designed and built by Texas A&M environmental design and undergraduate construction science students, were displayed May 14 and 15 at Rudder Plaza on the Texas A&M College Station campus.

Graduate urban planning students answered questions about the project and discuss strategies to lower the homeless population, which numbered 19,177 in Texas in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

Visitors to the display were also encouraged to write or illustrate what housing means to them on a large chalkboard next to the houses.

The homes were then transported to Community First Village, a master-planned development that provides affordable, sustainable housing for disabled, chronically homeless people in the Austin area.

The homes, both of which have less than 150 feet of living space, were designed as “tiny” houses, a broad term generally referring to residences 300 square feet or less. Advocates of the growing tiny house movement cite the advantages of the homes’ sustainability, lower cost and simplified lifestyle.

Both homes include separate living and bedroom areas, plenty of multipurpose shelving, storage compartments and closet space. Because the village has communal facilities for cooking and bathing, the homes do not include kitchens or bathrooms.

The project began in the fall 2014 semester in a tiny homes design contest sponsored by Texas A&M’s Center for Housing and Urban Development.

The contest’s two winning designs were refined by students at the beginning of a spring 2015 design/build course led by Ben Bigelow, assistant professor of construction science, and Gabriela Campagnol, assistant professor of architecture.

In early April, students began building the homes on two 6.9 x 18-foot trailers at the college’s Automated Fabrication & Design Lab, aka the Architecture Ranch. The homes were built on trailers to facilitate their transportation to Austin.

“The students loved getting their hands on a real project and actually building something, seeing what they have designed come to life,” said Bigelow. “They all got a firsthand taste of how long it takes to build a project and became acutely aware of the challenges in construction with weather delays and changes by designers.”

posted May 6, 2015