Sunday, February 14, 2010

House of Tiny Proportions

I knew when I transferred to this school that I would find a Tiny Tumbleweed house across from the Crandall Health Center. I first heard about such funhouses on Oprah a couple of years ago, with the creator, Jay Schafer raving about their low environmental impact. Since 1997 he has been living in houses smaller than some people’s closets. In July, my pre-cog abilities were aided by the use of YouTube, wherein I searched “Alfred University” and found a video all about it, in the style of the MTV series Cribs.

In real life, the miniature proportion of this house is bewitching, and its ability to be dragged thousands of miles, or, hitched is something that allows me to discern between PlaySkool houses and serious houses, something that until now, I have had trouble with. I can’t lie: the prospect of hiding under my bed from customs is cool. Also avoiding a huge mortgage is a plus. Others may see the house as a travesty - an immaculate, polished, infantile mobile home set in the hills of Alleghany County where, as one of my English professors once said, most jailbirds are booked for incest and/or DUIs. Some might wonder if, or hope that it is a child’s playhouse, or that its lone resident is an American Girl doll who comfortably fills up its shallow depths. On the contrary, an Alfred University MFA student by the name of Ann lives there. She is both charming and of normal Homo sapien stature.

According to the “more info” button on YouTube, she designed and built it, and has named it Protohaus. I suspect Protohaus was created using the DIY-blueprints, which can be purchased from Tiny Tumbleweed House Company for a large lump sum, or maybe from a comparable company by another name. . “Protohaus,“ she says, “is more than just a house. It’s a place to examine how we live and why we live that way. Um, It’s also a place to examine social, political and ecological impact of the way we live and the choices we make in how we live” 1. Holley’s pad boasts a sunny, spacious 150 square feet of living space. It was an effort of hers to use “as many recycled, reused and/or sustainable materials as possible. The house, located on AU property, is completely ‘off-the-grid:’ powered by solar energy, with propane-powered refrigerator and stove. Holley will live in the house this academic year as both an art and environmental project” 1. The use of reclaimed wood, soy-based inks and appliances made for R.V.s shows a genuine interest among Holley to be in accordance with the mission of the tiny house, which is conservation. Although the average family size in developed countries has shrunk, in the US, family homes have grown exponentially in size, due to increased funds, however “are costly in terms of building, taxes, heating, maintenance and repair. Small houses represent not just a reduction in size but emphasize design over size, utilize dual purpose features and incorporate technological advances of space saving equipment and appliances” 2.

I see the use of solar power up here as admirable, however I wonder how the cloud-cover effects its use. I see it as a landmark in the way it winks at me as it pioneers the fat of the lot of the land unto which its wheels are frozen. The rent for the plot of land must be affordable, given the small square footage being utilized. Its value as a design is unclear but it certainly is a promising sociological experiment. Will the body mass index of the inhabitants decrease being confined in such a small space? Over a century, would the body evolve to suit the tiny house it was living in, into something along the lines of gnome? If so, the design may yield a moral rationale in that it may bring a halt to the obesity epidemic as well as the environmental crisis.

To quote the late Marc Bolan, as a design the Protohaus is “visually fine but mentally dying.” The curious little house has a fine form, but I can’t imagine the overall function not being compromised or cramped by its conventional rectilinear containment- perhaps a spherical shape would allow for more room? Though the design is a component of identity formation: the modern human lives in a box. I do not believe that a person, after decades of living in “normal” quarters, can truly relax in a house of this girth. In addition I deduce the even rounding off of the figure ‘150 square feet’ to be a ruse for marketing purposes by the company. The design can be bought ready-made, as well, to convenience consumers and to appeal to the market in general: “Our pre-built houses on wheels can be delivered to you ready to be lived-in immediately.
They do not require any assembly and are road-worthy upon arrival” 3. The standardization of this design is a good way achieve publicity in order to communicate a message of environmental concern. If it’s the carbon footprint that is the concern, perhaps it can be stabilized by living on campus grounds (communally). Hell, I might be living the high life, that is one that is low in co2 emissions, in the same sized space in my tender-love-and-care-thirsty dorm room with a five-watt light bulb and energy efficient W&Ds, courtesy of the school. Dorms are akin to apartments, which are some of the greenest kinds of living- that is with a shared heat source. The idea that having a tiny house calls for less possessions and less dust to clean is a farce- the A&E series Hoarders is proof. Unlike George Carlin’s skit on stuff, I don’t think an extremely wasteful person stuck in a 150 square foot environment will change his/her evil ways of wanting to own things. I don’t see the small size as a choke-collar in that respect. I do see it as a deterrent for the go-Green consumer movement based on its scale, though it adds character, sensationalism even, to the one-sided sidewalked Park Street. I enjoy the company of the Protohaus but I’d declare that there should be more of a balance between aesthetics and utility, though I gather that there isn’t enough room for it.

Sources: /watch?v=kC VndbqqJqc /cms/s/2/799d9338-fe1c-11dd-932e-000077b07658.html

* /slideshow/2010/01/03/education/20100103TREND-dd_index.html


  1. I find Ann's project both compelling and unusual- I have had the opportunity to hear her talk about the project in person, both as my one of my TAs, and at her lecture last semester in the Environmental Lecture Series, and I also got to see the "inner workings" of her home. It will be an ongoing project- she plans to live in the space she has created throughout the forseeable future. As far as I understand, she came up with the floorplans for the space, and only loosley based it on pre-existing plans. It is meant to be a model of a possible meathod of sustainable living- but not as the one and only answer. I acutally have a coppy of her PROTOHAUS proposal, in pdf form, if you would like to see it. The forthought that went into the design and creation is deffinatley something worth seing! :)

  2. Looking back at my post I see how critical it sounds. Really all I was trying to do was fulfil the 1,000 word requirement.

    Sure, I wouldn't mind reading the .pdf.