Tiny Homes

Project Overview

For the 2014-2015 academic year, we enrolled 70 high school and 150 middle school students in our Studio H class to build public architecture with our team. The challenge this year is housing: How is housing influenced by social and economic context? How does affordable access to housing empower communities or families? How does the design of a home uplift and inspire positive change in a person’s life? With these questions in mind, our team and students took on the design and construction of two (identical) tiny homes, approximately 7×16 feet, built on trailers. One home would be donated to Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon, a wonderful transitional housing organization that provides a home and job training to the unhoused or homeless (while we had hoped to donate the home locally, Bay Area city zoning codes do not permit the legal occupancy of tiny homes, but the city of Eugene has embraced the tiny home movement as a viable housing option). The other home would be auctioned off at the end of the year to fund the project in years to come. All this will take place during the academic school year, with final delivery and auction taking place in early June 2015.


Project Team Leads

Rebecca Seward, Project Lead       Thomas Gardner, Studio Instructor



A huge thank you to our sponsors who have provided us with financial support or in-kind material donations: John Sander and Patti White, Simonton Windows, Charles Window & Door, Phantasos Foundation, Ashby Lumber, and Orlandi Trailer.


Unit 1: Boot Camp (Aug. 2014)

We kicked off the school year with a 2-week boot camp, which served as a primer for new students, and a refresher for returning students. Because our Studio H space is filled with tools and equipment that we will need to use over the course of the year, students must begin with vocabulary and procedures. Having a common language and common understanding of how to use each tool creates a culture of democracy, collaboration, and safety for all. Our boot camp units began with “(1) Make Your Mark,” learning how to hold and use different writing implements from a Sharpie for gestural sketching to a mechanical pencil for precise drafting. We followed with (2) Measurement (rulers and tape measures), (3) Cutting (X-Actos, scissors), (4) Scale (architectural scales),  (5) Modelmaking, (6) Hammers, nails and clamps, (7) Drills and screws, (8) Picture frames (putting it all together).


Unit 2: Precedent Study Research (Aug. 2014)

In architectural education, most projects begin with a precedent study: researching and analyzing a pre-existing piece of architecture that might inspire your own design. Typically, a precedent study is chosen for its common program or as an archetype of what you are designing. In the case of our tiny homes, our students were assigned small-scale structures (not all of them tiny homes, but some just compact structures using innovative space planning, materials, circulation systems, and more). For the precedent study unit, each student looked at their assigned structure, and analyzed its floor plan, systems, structure, light, and other elements, then produced a tabloid-sized layout to present this analysis to the class. Over four class periods and 70 students, we looked closely at dozens of structures that would inform our own design process moving forward. Each building had something to teach us about what our tiny home might be. A thorough understanding of their precedent study would be crucial for students, as the next two units, Drafting and Modeling, would require them to represent their precedent study visually in 2 and 3 dimensions.


Unit 3: Drafting (Sept. 2014)

After each student had an understanding of their precedent study, we began looking at two-dimensional drawings used in architecture, namely Plan, Section, and Elevation drawings. Through lectures and examples of Plan (birds-eye-view or horizontal section), Section (a cross-through slice of a building), and Elevation (a side view showing no depth), we integrated an understanding of architectural scale and students produced drafted sets of drawings of their precedent study. We find it is easier to learn the skills of both drafting and modeling through an existing building first. All of our drafting is done by hand, using drafting tables and straight-edges, which were made in our shop. While hand-drafting can be tedious, it teaches precision and 2D visual comprehension that will help our students both analyze and represent their ideas. The drawings produced by students during this unit were all at a 1/2″ = 1′-0″ scale.


Unit 4: Models (Oct. 2014)

After drafting, we moved into three dimensions, teaching students how to measure, cut, and assemble scale models. Materials included chipboard, foamcore, cardboard, and various other found objects as students first built a model of their precedent study building, and then moved into their own design process of the tiny home. As with all of design, the modeling process in particular is iterative, and many students produced multiple (sometimes dozens) of models to perfect an idea or a detail. We collaboratively look at, discuss, and edit models along the way, ensuring that we are learning from each other and pushing each other to try new ideas.


Unit 5: Architectural Concept and Development (Nov. 2014)

After establishing a baseline skillset in modelmaking and drafting, we returned to the challenge of our tiny home: a 7×16-foot home for one person, built on a trailer. There are physical constraints (storage, compact space, weight distribution over the axles), environmental requirements (protection from weather, circulation of light and air), and aesthetic choices (materials, entry, orientation, color, style). We asked students to take a step back and look at an architectural concept, no matter how random or crazy (i.e. “design a home inspired by a taco!”). We discussed how a broad conceptual inspiration can inspire a big idea for a design, and over the course of a few weeks, students developed their own concepts and final models to present to the class. Our home would not need to integrate utilities other than power (which we would use solar panels for), as Opportunity Village actually requires that houses NOT provide a kitchen, plumbing and water, which are located in a shared space for tenants. The house required a bed, a work and seating area, and storage for personal goods.



Unit 6: Critique and Selection (Nov. 2014)

After reviewing all 63 student concepts and providing critique to one another, we worked as a project team to hone the design down to a few core design ideas and aesthetic elements that many students had integrated. Rebecca and Thomas, our Project Lead and Studio Instructor, worked along with students to create a design that would represent us as a group. The house would have a shed-style roof, a relatively private exterior on one side to ensure the feeling of security for the new tenant, and would use some kind of wood or panelized siding. The “parti,” or basic diagram for the final design emerged from a rudimentary idea of what a house is: when we first asked our students to draw a home, most will drew a box with a gable roof on top. This iconic image of a home, which at first we believed to be simplistic, actually inspired our design. Because we are building two homes, we took the form of the iconic home, and split it in half, creating two mirror image homes that are forever and intrinsically related, no matter where they end up and who they may house. As we progressed, we made decisions about space planning, roofing (corrugated metal), and siding (treated palette wood), as well as windows (clerestory windows and a peephole corner window). This would begin the construction documentation phase, as we would require a full set of construction documents before starting to build on site. We had purchased two trailers and would begin construction in January on our school site, just outside our classroom.



Unit 7: Doghouses (Dec. 2014)

Before beginning construction of the tiny homes at full scale, we felt it important to practice wood framing and the vocabulary associated with the elements of a structure. Once the design of the home was finalized, students were challenged to build 1/6 scale doghouse versions of our tiny home using the same materials they would use on the actual houses. The simple doghouse was designed by our Project Lead, Rebecca, as a kit of parts for students to come to understand the framing process. This required them to learn terms such as stud, rafter, king stud, top and bottom plate, and to become familiar with hardware and the assembly of a wood frame house.


Unit 8: Mid-Year Skill Certification and Exam (Dec. 2014)

Just before Christmas break, students took a final skill certification exam in preparation for returning in January and starting on the construction site. This certification included vocabulary testing of structural components, safety and procedure quiz, and a physical demonstration of scale and precision. Students have been held to these safety and terminology standards throughout the building process.


Unit 9: Construction Documentation (Jan. 2015)

As soon as we returned from Christmas Break, our Project Team finalized a set of construction documents, based on the final design, our material selection, and schedule. The construction documents are a standard set of plans, and we formatted them in a step-by-step procedure that would align with our school schedule and how each of the four class periods would contribute (i.e. each class period is responsible for framing one wall on each house, etc). We use this set as our “bible” on site.


Unit 10: Trailer prep and framing (Jan. 2015)

The trailers had been delivered without a wooden deck, making our reinforcement and framing pretty straight forward. We first drilled and installed seismic tie-down bolts to the frame, which are threaded upward and all the framing will attach to them. Next came sheet metal flashing and a pressure-treated frame, along with construction screening to rodent-proof the bottom of our house.



Unit 11: Wall Framing and Floor Insulation (Feb. 2015)

After the trailer was framed, we were ready to begin wall framing, including four walls per tiny home, two short and two long. Each class period was responsible for one wall per house, and followed our construction documents to assemble them. We also added the floor insulation and subflooring layer atop our framed trailer.



Unit 12: Raising the walls and roof! (Feb. 2015)

Once each of the walls was framed, all were raised. Each class period slowly and methodically raised one wall per house, threading them onto the tie-down bolts. We held the walls in place with temporary bracing so that we could square it perfectly before putting up the roof joists. On weekend days, Rebecca and Thomas have been working on site to prepare the next phase of framing and sheathing so that students arrive on site on Monday ready to roll.



Unit 13: Sheathing and house wrap (Feb – Mar. 2015)

After our framing and roof structure was complete, we began sheathing the house in OSB and house wrap. The house wrap will provide a weather barrier. Our project team worked weekends and throughout the week with students to attach OSB and make the cuts in the sheathing to accommodate windows and doors. This step required utmost precision to ensure sealed edges for water and weather.


Unit 14: Windows and doors (Mar. 2015)

Once the first layer of OSB sheathing and house wrap were attached, we began installing our doors and windows. The home has minimal windows to allow for privacy, but enough to let in natural light. There is a long strip of windows along the top of the long wall, as well as a tall narrow window at the long wall’s edge. A door on one end sits opposite a small porthole window on the other, next to the bed. All of our doors and windows were generously donated by Simonton and Charles Window & Door.


Unit 15: Palette wood siding (Jan – April 2015)

Throughout this entire process, we have been collecting and disassembling palettes. We have received palette donations from some of our students’ families’ companies as well as Ashby Lumber. Every class period, students have painstakingly used cat’s paws and hammers to take the palettes apart, remove nails, and then sand and stain them. These pieces of palette wood are being arranged in a semi-random (but also deliberate) pattern based on width, color, and size to make up the siding of our houses. A big thank you to our student George’s father for donating so many palettes!


Unit 16: Roofing (March – April 2015)

To contrast the palette wood siding, we chose a corrugated metal roofing product, ASC Delta Rib 3, for the roof and rear wall, in Slate Gray, a cool color to help resist heat transfer. Rebecca and Thomas, along with the help of a few volunteers, laid the high-temperature underlayment (this was a step we did not involve students in, for safety reasons). We then brought in a few professional roofers (who volunteered their time and labor!) to install the wood paneling, with advising from the good folks at Allied Roofing Supply in Berkeley. One of our challenges during this phase was custom fitting the panel around the wheel well where it came down to meet the trailer.


Unit 17: Electrical (March – April 2015)

For the electrical wiring of our houses, we wanted to wire the homes and also build in all the capabilities necessary to be solar-ready (we are crossing our fingers for a pending donation of solar panels). Our project team did all the rough wiring, drilling holes, setting the boxes in place for receptacles and switches, pulled the wiring, and ran the conduit to be solar-ready. We then brought in Guerrerro’s Electrical, who volunteered their services to check our work and install the circuit breaker panels. They will return once the drywall is installed to finish the switched and receptacles. We also purchased an Outback FlexPower One pre-wired solar converter system for an off-grid application (one for each homes). For the electrical phase, students helped to drill the holes for conduit and install nailing plates on the studs so that we don’t hit the wires while doing our drywall installation.


Unit 18: Flooring (April 2015)

Atop our subfloor, students installed 1/2” OSB, an industrial yet sturdy material which we will stain in a dark ebony. This material also allows for the future owner at Opportunity Village to install carpeting tiles or another flooring material directly atop the OSB. The floors were then covered in Ram Board for protection until drywall is complete.


Unit 19: Insulation (April 2015)

A huge thank you goes out to Thermafiber, who generously donated all of our insulation. Their product, Ultra Batt, is a mineral wool that is made up of 70% recycled content, and is both easy and safe for students to work with and handle. This is the material which will insulate our roof and walls. While installing, students learned how each batt had to be adjusted to slip behind and in front of electrical wiring, and how to fit it into a wall cavity.


**Last updated April 29, 2015 (we will update as we go!)



The activities below are auxiliary activities conducted by our middle school students as their “research” contribution to the design and construction of the Tiny Home project.


Auxiliary activity 1: Solar Path Mapping

The objective of this activity was to learn how to model sun movement through the sky in a given location and determine how to orient a building for maximizing opportunities for solar energy (both passive and active). This analysis would inform our siting of the tiny homes on the Opportunity Village site and prepare us for accurate installation of our solar panels.


Auxiliary activity 2: Studio One visit

In order to truly understand the scale of a tiny home, we asked builder David Szlasa to bring his own tiny structure to our school site, so that students could walk through it and analyze it as a precedent study. David’s “Studio 1” design is a public art project, mobile work space and micro residency. The 65 square foot “off the grid” solar powered art studio is built on the back of a flat bed trailer and can be deployed to locations around the Bay Area as needed to support various public art projects and performances. Studio 1 is built primarily of reclaimed and salvage materials.


Auxiliary activity 3: Space Planning Dioramas

These small-scale diorama projects asked students to express ideas about space and houses without the strict parameters of a scale model. Using mostly reclaimed and found materials, students assembled a small room at a particular scale, negotiating the challenges of a small space and many programmatic requirements, which mimics the requirements of our tiny home.