Summer Design Program Crafts Its Own Mobile Dwelling

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By Zachary Edelson / Published by Dwell
A summer design studio organized by +FARM was spurred by the challenge of new housing in certain upstate New York areas.

+FARM's prupose is simple in theory, complex in excution: use a short summer project to immserse students and young professionals in the design and construction process. Since 2011, the program—currently an educational institute, soon to be a non-profit—has built a number of small shelters and installations across upstate New York. +FARM explores what its director William Haskas calls "poly-authorship:" ensuring its students, some of whom don't have a design background, contribute to every step of a project's realization from concept to fabrication.

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+Farm is based in upstate New York, where land can be cheap but new housing prohibitively expensive: when a resident breaks ground on a waterfront site, their taxes can dramatically increase. What if new housing didn't need to technically break ground? "Our thought," says +Farm Director William Haskas, was "let's discuss ideas for a new type of dwelling....one that could potential help the people that actually live in the area."

Haskas, also a Part-Time Lecturer at Parsons the New School for Design, selected a unique focus for +Farm's Summer 2015 studio: mobile housing. When participating in a roundtable discussion with residents of Buffalo, NY, +FARM learned that tax laws don't favor new housing constructions on waterfront sites: once a resident broke ground, taxes could spike from $250 up to $15,000. The Summer 2015 Nomad Studio sought, in the Haskas' words, a new and "intelligently inhabitable environment for living." The result was dubbed "Touching Me Softly" for its soft interior; its 8ft by 5ft dimensions contains a small room that sleeps two and easily converts to a hangout space. Deployable solar panels can generate 1,000 watts and help residents cook, brew coffee, and project films (via a compact digital projector). Appropriately enough for a mobile dwelling, pits stops are streamlined thanks to a stowable chemical-free composting toilet.

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Two deployable Renogy solar panels can generate 1,000 watts of electricity for the dwelling's appliances while a stowable chemical-free composting toilet streamlines pit stops.

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During a two day design charette, the team of students—who range from first year undergraduates to young professionals—used software programs Rhino and Grasshopperto shape the dwelling's sinuous lauan plywood exterior. Their digital models also included the mobile home's structure, fastening, and other components.

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The team of 15 students and 5 professional volunteers then fabricated the home, seen here at night, using a mix of hand construction and power tools. Hand-made physical models were also part of the design process.

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The lauan plywood-lined interior switches between two functions: a bedroom during its "sleep phase" or a space for entertaining during an "active phase" (seen here).

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