In the summer of 2016 Weber Thompson started with a simple idea: to design, build, and donate basic shelter for a family in need through the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) Tiny House program. How hard could it be for a few architects to build an 8’ x 12’ structure over a few weekends, right?
Well, the effort was far from tiny, and its reach was greater than the offices of Weber Thompson. To borrow from the cultural proverb, the raising of the WT Tiny House ‘took a village’. Though the project’s inception and support was born from WT, its upbringing belongs to the larger WT community. It’s true, architects are generally not known for their skills with hammers and saws, but it wasn’t out of necessity that the WT Tiny House became a community project. The groundswell of interest and support for this project (by WT staff, our families, our vendors, neighbors and other members of the community) was impossible to restrain.
To make our Tiny House design a reality, the ownership of Weber Thompson generously donated over 75 staffing hours to design and manage the project, purchased the materials that were not donated (over $3,000), and members of WT staff volunteered over 330 personal hours in construction labor. LIHI volunteers gave another 60 hours of labor, while WT staff spouses, neighbors, (and even children) added over another 110 hours in volunteer labor. In addition, several vendors that work closely with our office made generous material donations. Alki Lumber provided 100% of the framing package at a significant discount; Windows Doors & More offered reduced cost doors and windows; James Hardie donated 100% of the siding and exterior trim; Mohawk donated 100% of the flooring; Miller Paint donated 100% of the exterior paint, Allegion donated the door hardware, First Lamp Architecture & Construction donated the interior wood tongue & groove finish material, Phinney Ridge Painting fully donated the exterior painting labor, Erik Boyle of Stone Source donated carpentry labor, Dan Luddy of ArchEcology donated finishing labor, as well as a number of additional small personal donations that came directly from WT staff.
The WT Tiny House actually provides more than just basic shelter. We set a design goal to improve upon LIHI’s Tiny House prototype by 1) optimizing usable square footage, 2) adding light and ventilation, 3) increasing durability, and 4) keeping the assembly simple enough to be able to be constructed by unskilled labor. We are happy to report that the completed WT prototype met these goals by providing an interior sleeping loft, an additional window, improved ventilation, added insulation and weatherproofing details, a lockable door, built-in storage, a front porch, and even a small solar panel to deliver enough power to the structure for simple lighting and device charging. We are pleased with the modifications we have brought to the Tiny House prototype, and hope they will provide its residents with an enhanced sense of home, pride, and connection to the larger community.
We at Weber Thompson have immense gratitude and respect for LIHI’s Tiny House encampment program and its ability to offer positive and supportive solutions to sheltering homeless families and individuals throughout the city. LIHI’s encampments offer an improvement over the conditions of non-regulated encampments by providing safe and secure temporary housing, with access to services that can help homeless residents work to secure more permanent housing and other services. LIHI’s village encampments are democratic and self-managed, have strict codes of conduct, include resident background checks, and work with communities to conscientiously integrate encampments into neighborhoods across the city. As part of Mayor Ed Murray’s recent initiatives to support people experiencing homelessness, we are hopeful that WT’s Tiny House will become a transitional home for a family in need at a new encampment in the City of Seattle this winter.
– Carey Dagliano Holmes is an Associate at Weber Thompson and works in the Mid-Rise Design Studio. She is passionate about making Seattle a safe, equitable place for her family and is a member of the Southeast Design Review Board.