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I have always heard that it is best to be well-rounded. However, I like to think of myself as pointed. For me, all of my cumulative life experiences are simply the shaft that propels the arrow forward in my desire to build.
I think passion entails the thrill of a challenge, the opportunity to overcome odds that previously seemed insurmountable. One of my earliest childhood memories is of climbing around the huge model of the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House in Disney World. I was always fascinated by architecture and have countless journals of the sketches of different structures I have devised over the years. They range from the shaky doodles of tree-forts in a sprawling kindergartner’s hand to intricate blueprints that were meticulously traced out as I gained experience. There is a fine line between obsession and passion, and all through elementary and middle school I perfected my favorite designs, until finally during sophomore year all of my bottled enthusiasm exploded and I started to build. Despite having no experience in carpentry, for weeks I wielded hammer and nails and toiled over my structure, until finally I produced the end result: a 5-foot by 8-foot tiny house. Despite the extensive and exhausting nature of my endeavor, the project barely whet my appetite.
So I started building a bigger one.
This time, my efforts are a part of my senior thesis, an independent research project conducted in conjunction with an architecture firm in my area. The plans are much more in depth. Sketches fill every spare piece of paper that finds its way into my hands—drawings of the interior, exterior, loft, tiny kitchen, different window arrangements and the angle of the roof.
Simply looking at the structure fills me with an innate sense of pride, but walking into it is another matter entirely. I can glance up and see the exposed roof beams slanting down over the loft above my left shoulder, the huge wall of windows that frames the creek to the right and immediately catches a visitor’s attention, the dramatic silhouette of the French doors, the book-filled shelf that doubles as a ladder, and the tiny kitchen and bathroom to the left. I can remember all of the struggles that the project has entailed, which I relished but were difficult nonetheless. Henry David Thoreau, one of the original tiny house pioneers, once noted, “Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” At the beginning, all I possessed was a few shaky graphite sketches and my overwhelming wish to create. I pursued my goal of constructing a fully functional structure and began to literally and figuratively develop my foundation, mastering the basics of carpentry by watching YouTube videos and collecting tips from the local Lowes staff. At the suggestion of my project mentor, a local architect, I worked doggedly for hours on the program Google SketchUp until I created a suitable computer-generated model. Even with this new knowledge, I still needed the physical resources to actually build the house. I am pleased to report that 80% of the home is composed of salvaged materials, the result of countless weekends spent driving around town gathering windows and lumber from salvage yards and construction sites, so that the cost of the project has been minimal.
If there is any one thing that I have learned from my thesis, it is that I have found purpose. Now that I know that it is possible to build a comprehensive home on a relatively small budget, I want to promote this knowledge so that it can be applied. Currently, the United States is facing an affordable housing shortage, one that I believe served as a contributing factor in the recent financial downturn. On a basic level, smaller homes are not only more space-efficient, they are also more affordable, and they could be utilized to combat poverty by supplementing the real estate market with an inexpensive housing solution. Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the recent devastation in the Philippines, I also know that micro-dwellings like the ones that I design could serve as disaster shelters, where victims could live permanently or temporarily while their homes are being rebuilt. Current response methods, such as the FEMA trailers distributed as shelters after Katrina, contain a variety of inherent problems that need to be either corrected or eliminated in new models. Tiny houses are also, in my opinion, the best way to negate urban sprawl and promote more environmentally sustainable living. Minimizing house size enables more efficient resource use because smaller homes consume fewer materials in their construction and less energy in their operation. This aspect of micro dwellings also makes them a feasible way to negate the issues that contribute to climate change.
Despite the fact that smaller houses pose as a solution to many of the problems that presently plague both the United States and the world, in many areas tiny homes face obstinate legal barriers. Minimum size requirements were implemented after the Industrial Revolution in response to poor tenement housing conditions. Now, however, these restrictions are mostly unnecessary and obsolete, and serve only to limit the amount of affordable housing available. I would like to promote tiny house awareness in order to combat the legal barriers that stand in the way of what I consider a practical and economical housing solution.
I value tiny homes because I love building them. I love to design, and I love the feeling of satisfaction that comes with creating a structure from scratch. However, my personal fascination only accounts for a fraction of my interest. On a broader level, I view these houses as a way to begin to resolve some of the key issues that threaten both my local and global community.
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