A tiny house, a big feat

A student group designed a small-scale sustainable house for the Temple Community Garden.

Sophomore architecture major Sean Kennedy (left), senior architecture major Stephanie Haller and sophomore urban studies major Molly Mattes. | Richard Smith TTN
Sophomore architecture major Sean Kennedy (left), senior architecture major Stephanie Haller and sophomore urban studies major Molly Mattes. | Richard Smith TTN

On both corners of Diamond and Carlisle streets, there are two gardens: the Temple Community Garden and the Sonia Sanchez Garden – a garden dedicated to Sanchez, an African-American poet associated with the Black Arts Movement.

The winners of the Office of Sustainability’s Student Design contest – in which students were instructed to design tiny, sustainable houses for the TCG – made sure the design of their tiny house was accessible for both gardens. This was accomplished through an effort to honor the activism and artistic work of Sanchez by accommodating to events like poetry readings or movie showings.

On Jan. 31, Temple’s Office of Sustainability hosted its first university-wide design competition in the architecture building. The goal of the all-day competition was to design a tiny house that would be utilized by the TCG at Diamond and Carlisle streets.

Over the summer, the Sustainability Office organized a committee of faculty members to create interdisciplinary collaboration at Temple.

“Given the time constraints of a one-day competition, designing a tiny house felt like an achievable goal,” Katherine Switala-Elmhurst, program manager of the Office of Sustainability, said in an email.

The student design competition utilized people with all kinds of majors, like physics and geography and urban studies, because there was something each student could implement within the collaborative design and research project.

The winning team included two architecture majors, a geography and urban studies major, a physics major and a mechanical engineering major.

Stephanie Haller, a senior architecture major, first heard about the contest during her studio project to create a design for a sustainable library. The professor of her class invited the students to compete, and Haller decided to incorporate her design skills into the contest.

“[Sustainable design] is an up-and-coming thing, especially in the architecture field,” Haller said.

The contestants received an outline of what Temple Community Garden was looking for and their requirements, which included a mini greenhouse to start seedlings, a composting toilet, solar power, meeting space with seating and storage space for TCG members. The structure could not exceed 120 square-feet and needed to be portable.

Molly Mattes, a sophomore geography and urban studies major, researched urban gardening and watched a Netflix documentary about tiny houses to prepare for the contest.

“We went in there blind – you didn’t know anyone unless you knew them from your class,” Mattes said.

The students discussed ideas for a few hours and then began writing their 10-page proposal on their approach to the project.

Haller and Sean Kennedy, the other architecture major on the team, went to the computer lab to work on the design aspect.

Haller said they worked on elevation drawing, which allows for a flat view of a structure. The architecture duo also worked on 3-D models of the project using programs like Rhino,

Photoshop and Illustrator.

“We went back to the written portion of the document and said, ‘What are the things we need to clean up? What are things we need to finalize?” Haller said.

The students also created a video that explained their concepts and proposals.

Mattes created the marketing plan for the project to promote the design and explain how it was feasible to the judges and TCG. She also worked on writing the proposal itself.

The students discussed creating a trolley system within the site to add to the portable aspect of the design, but realized further along that the strategy wouldn’t be feasible.

“It’s kind of hard to collaborate well with four people you have never met before in all different majors,” said sophomore architecture major Sean Kennedy.

Ten days after the competition, students were notified via e-mail that they won first prize.

“I definitely think it came down to the document and our presentation,” Haller said. “I think the fact that ours is feasible, and it wasn’t too out of reach for that community garden.”

In their proposal, the students included a marketing plan for potential funding sources. The plan included the ways the tiny house could benefit the community, including its promotion of sustainable living and its ability to create a collaborative environment between Temple and the North Philadelphia community.

 “Everyone was from different background, so everyone was able to become, by the end of the day, an expert on whatever we wanted to implement into the project,” Mattes said.

The students designed the house so that at least 20 people could fit into the structure. They also designed it to be portable, include a greenhouse, a storage space for belongings and a composting toilet.

The students’ design stood out from the other groups because of their greenhouse and green roof design. TCG members would be able to access the green roof by climbing a ladder inside the house that leads to a mezzanine platform.

The green-roof design would also help with water filtration and insulation for the entire structure.

“Putting the greenhouse on the roof made an interesting verticality to the building,” Kennedy said.

The first-place prize for the one-day contest was $1,000, which the students can use for their personal expenses.

The logistics of creating the tiny house are currently in the works, Elmhurst said. The committee is currently unaware of the timeframe, but hope to have a better idea before the end of the semester.

Kennedy stressed the importance of the multi-disciplinary collaboration as a key learning point in the contest.

“Being an architect in the future, I’ll have to work with interior designers and contractors, so it was a good experience in that way,” Kennedy said.

Emily Scott can be reached at emily.ivy.scott@temple.edu.

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