Hey Buffalo, it’s time to see some impressive affordable, sustainable, modern houses built in our neighborhoods. But where do we start? How about starting at the University at Buffalo, with professor Brad Wales and his Small [Medium] Built Works Program? This new team project is part of the School of Architecture and Planning’s efforts to address the topic of affordable housing.
“Worldwide, affordable housing is perhaps the most pressing architectural issue of our time,” says Wales. “Our approach is to define ‘affordability’ based on monthly costs, not just on building with cheaper materials, so we can provide a high quality house that performs well over several generations, for low monthly payments.” By viewing affordability in this way, Wales said they have the opportunity to incorporate high quality building systems that would not normally be associated with ‘affordable housing.’
To facilitate this, Wales’ students looked to the “low hanging fruit” first and immediately decided to go for maximum affordability by creating very small, or even tiny house designs. Altogether, two houses are ready to go. Both are based on three principles: SUN_FOOD_WATER was the name of the design studio. That means that the home dwellers will have ample access to all three life sustaining elements, from solar attributes of passive solar gain and south-facing roof planes for PV systems, to rain water collection, to growing their own food. Now, who wouldn’t want to live in a house that provides all of these features, in a modern dwelling, which can be built at a starting price of $80K?
Last week I met up with Wales and his class to go over the two house options; both have “add-on” features to customize the habitat to each home owner’s taste and budget.
We started with the smaller, and more affordable, Tiny Wood House. Of course, this dwelling is on the ‘tiny’ side at 250 square feet, but it packs an impressive punch when it comes to livability, including a full kitchen and full bathroom; and one of the more surprising features of the house is that it comes with a full basement, which houses the mechanicals and can be used for a second bedroom (virtually doubling the livable square footage), or for ample storage. The Base Bid for this unit should be around $80K or less, giving the homeowner everything that he or she requires to live a happy and healthy life. Wales will be looking to partner with a local Contractor or Project Manager to value-engineer the house as low as possible without sacrificing quality.
Add-ons for Tiny Wood House include a greenhouse (different sizes are possible), a larger porch, and a butterfly roof for extra pizzazz, a PV-system on the south-facing roof slope, and enhanced water collection capabilities. The house also has the capability to morph into any lot setting, even if the lot is in the middle of a block. The house is designed on conventional specs, which means that any builder can put it up.
The second house is the Stack House (lead image), because it incorporates two stacked shipping containers. The containers are insulated and drywalled on the inside, giving the home a more refined interior appearance. But from the outside it appears as industrial chic, due to the “expression” of the containers. The greenhouse element is pulled inside the container building envelope, in a vertical gardening concept that runs up through the stairwell—freshening the air and providing food-growing opportunities! This house is 674 square feet with a full basement, full kitchen, one-and-a-half bathrooms and up to three bedrooms.
The students are working on an interesting alternative container concept where two containers can be repositioned with a bridging off-the-shelf industrial roof gable design (The 2020 House), which at first I was not a fan of, but after listening to the attributes I was sold. 2020 House offers a 20-foot square living room/dining room and three different greenhouse options, while providing livable square footage of 720 square feet, not including the basement (same scenario as the Tiny Wood House).
All of the houses also feature natural ventilation, and accommodations for a parking garage (or tiny guest house) depending on the size of the lot. Like the Tiny Wood House, Stack House and 2020 also have plenty of Add Alternates such a solar panels, which people can incorporate into the design for years to come. Tiny Wood House and 2020 can be adapted to be fully accessible, perfect for the elderly or people with mobility constraints.
These houses are designed to recoup costs that are traditionally frivolously wasted. By growing and harvesting one’s own vegetables, diverting roof water into rain barrels, and maximizing energy gain from the sun, the idea is to reduce burdensome long term monthly costs that are associated with traditional builds.
Since these affordable houses are affiliated with UB, and are conceived in a spirit of public benefit, a builder would have to work through a neighborhood-based non-profit organization, as has been the case with all of Wales’ Small (and not so small) Built Works since 2001—a variety of functional public art projects such as pocket parks, bus shelters, planters, benches, the video projection towers at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and UB’s award winning Solar Decathlon GRoW Home. The design for GRoW Home came out of Wales’ Graduate Studio in 2013, and many of the same principles are incorporated into these smaller footprints.
Students designing these affordable houses include Emily Badawy, Samendy Brice, Ashley Chiffy, Min Jin Kook, Bryan Laconte, Jon Machovec, Josh Nichols, Gavin Orion, Chris Rivera, Allie Volungus, Jack Wakeley, Maria Bautista, Jacob Devries, Justina Dziama, Rachel Goff, Tom Horvath, Katerina Kalyoncu, Derek Chan, Matt Hange, Billy Huang, Danielle Kwong, Kyle Marsh, and Matt Shayo. As with most of UB’s Small Built Works Projects, Mike Pratt is donating his Structural Engineering efforts.
Initial versions of the designs were shown at El Museo Gallery last May, and Wales will be projecting the designs to the street in his storefront gallery at 164 Allen Street this Friday, October 5th, from 6-9pm as part of Allentown’s First Friday gallery hop. Buffalo Rising will continue to follow this effort as designs are solidified and development milestones are met.
The current students are 90% done in producing permit-ready drawings, including Architectural, Structural, Electrical, and Plumbing drawings, with the Site Plan drawing(s) to be created when a Site, or Sites are identified. Wales will add his stamp and the CBO, or builder can submit for a permit. At this point, Wales says that he is in the mode of “gifting the permit-ready drawings to the right neighborhood, or situation, and moving to get these houses built in Buffalo.” He’s looking to partner with Community Based Organizations, developers, institutions, or anyone else that sees the value in these unique affordable housing opportunities.