The tiny home movement has been sweeping the United States and is often discussed in conversations about sustainable living, affordable housing, multigenerational living, and downsizing in retirement. However, moveable tiny homes typically do not address the needs of people living with different abilities. With this blog post, we hope to spark conversation and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in the industry of moveable tiny homes, and join the innovation happening with ADUs (accessory dwelling units) such as FabCab and Minka.
Our interdisciplinary collaboration was a 4-week project at Colorado State University which included 20 interior design and architecture senior level students from their CIDA-accredited program, a local tiny home specialist, and myself. With an educational background in occupational therapy and gerontology and professional specialization in residential universal design and livable communities, I was able to bring research and stories that the interior design students might not have been exposed to before.
The results were simply delightful as the universally designed tiny homes were conceptualized. I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Laura Malinin, Assistant Professor and Director of the Nancy Richardson Design Center, for her vision and encouragement during this experience. We hope that this interdisciplinary project can be an inspiration for other universities to create similar learning opportunities for their students. Here is how it worked, including lessons learned, with Dr. Malinin’s class of interior architecture and design seniors at Colorado State University in Fall 2018.
The students were given two requirements when designing their tiny home:
It must be moveable.
It must be universal.
Focus on the WHY
The first week with the students was a lecture Q&A, with a focus on WHY it is essential to design homes for all users. Without being able to bring user experts into the classroom, I utilized videos such as Desires for the Design of Homes from The Universal Design Project. The presentation was image-focused and reviewed disability and aging statistics, principles of universal design (using residential examples), accessible vs universal design, and guidelines for dimensions. I also included tiny home and small space considerations for inclusion. The students were very interested in examples from my experiences in the homes of elders and from my work as a homecare/hospice occupational therapist.
Design pin-up & special guest
One week from the initial lecture, the students presented concept ideas and renderings for discussion. Additionally, we invited special guest Brandi Powell to join us from WeeCasa (a Colorado tiny home resort community in Lyons, CO). Brandi and her husband have built a tiny home, they currently live in a tiny home, and Brandi helps to manage the tiny home resort community of WeeCasa. Her insights into tiny home living, zoning, and transportation were incredibly insightful and helped to guide the reality of these plans. Myself, Brandi, and Dr. Malinin comprised the review panel for pin-up presentations and provided group feedback.
This class was dedicated to open studio time and individualized feedback. The students could sign up to meet with me and/or Dr. Malinin for personalized design review and suggestions. Creating an equitable entry into the home (eliminating steps) did not prove to be much of a challenge. However, many students requested help problem solving the interior space and storage needs for their designs.
After a week off, to give the students more time to complete their designs, I was back in the classroom for their final presentations. The concept universally designed tiny homes ranged in size between 120 sf – 600 sf. The students took the requirement of “mobile” in many different directions including modular/prefabricated, RV, flatbed trailer, and even a houseboat.
“Proud” doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings. It was evident that the students became invested in the idea of residential universal design, and the beautiful concepts they created exceeded my expectations. It is my great pleasure to share some of them with you now.