For most people who pass by the small, bleak wooden building at the Temple Community Garden, they’d probably mistake it for a complex garden shed.
Yet inside the 175-foot space people may be surprised to find the Temple Tiny House compact with LED lighting, a 50-square foot native plant green roof and rainwater collection barrels.
Last semester, the house became a community compost network site for the city of Philadelphia, or one of the official sites for the city’s growing program to promote composting through the city and more organic alternatives, said Caroline Burkholder, sustainability manager at the Office of Sustainability.
“What is most important, valuable or thoughtful about the space than the design or structure is that it is a teaching tool that exists for the institution to think about our goals, as far as a standard for building practices,” Burkholder said.
The house also includes a compost toilet disconnected from the city’s water, an exterior cork siding and natural daylight and ventilation to integrate its construction to the natural urban space around it.
Its construction was the result of a one-day event focused on design planning hosted by Temple in January 2015. Thirty-five students were divided into seven groups with the task to design a sustainable tiny house for the TCG.
The projects were judged by a multidisciplinary jury, which distributed cash prizes for the first and second places. Students in a Spring 2016 class developed the design, and the construction of the house was completed in a Summer II course, Burkholder said.
In August 2019, the house became the first project in Philadelphia to be given the Living Building Challenge’s Petal Certification, a certification from the International Living Future Institute. It awards the house’s design and construction for sustainability.
“The major goal of the Living Building Challenge is basically to built structures that belong to the environment,” said Adebola Duro-Aina, energy extern at the Office of Sustainability. “So structures that are able to go right, fit the rights of the environment.”
For Duro-Aina, the tiny house promotes engagement activities for the students and encourages sustainable practices, which inspires the community to see that it is possible to have and maintain these structures.
“Seeing that the house was built by students, that the design and the structure was done by students and faculty help students to have a more active role in being sustainable, not just developing sustainable practices in class but implementing that aware in their workplace in the future,” she added.
The Office of Sustainability offers tours and information sessions throughout the year to showcase the varying sustainability efforts within the house.
Hamil Pearsall, the Center for Sustainable Communities faculty fellow, also believes that involving students helps engage in different sustainable practices, she said.
“One of the benefits of having the [community] gardens or, in this case, the tiny house, is that it serves as a demonstration project to create awareness of these types of buildings and maybe to garner some interest in gardening or in constructing something similar,” she added.
The project itself is not the most important, rather the sustainable alternatives it represents, Burkholder said. The house offers hope for a more sustainable future, and also an opportunity for affordable housing solutions for Philadelphia, she added.
“We do not have anyone living there, but someone could,” Burkholder said. “I think that is a really powerful suggestion about how we can respond and offer solutions to our climate crisis, that we are willing to live more simply, have less things and think about where is the energy coming from.”