Architecture students design tiny shelter for Bozeman homeless project
By Evelyn Boswell for Montana Living
BOZEMAN — More than 100 people gathered Thursday evening to celebrate the completion of the first tiny home prototype for a planned village to house Bozeman's homeless.
With one day left in the spring semester, Montana State University School of Architecture students in hard hats gave tours and answered questions about the 150-square-foot house they designed and built in professor Ralph Johnson's "Design for the Community" class. The project was completed over three semesters in partnership with the local faith community and the Human Resource Development Council.
The MSU houses will also serve as prototypes for 37 tiny houses that will become part of a village for Bozeman's homeless, said Ben Lloyd, principal architect for Comma-Q Architecture and site architect for that project. The exact location for Griffin Village hasn't yet been announced.
Lloyd said he hadn't seen MSU's tiny house until he attended the open house.
"I love it," he said. "(It does) a great job of responding to a really important, critical need."
"This is such an important step," said Royce Smith, dean of MSU's College of Arts and Architecture. "This particular project touches every facet of assistance and humanity in such a special way."
Smith said nothing is more special than a home and a place to call your own, but that dream seems increasingly out of reach. As housing becomes more expensive, the American dream seems further away.
"These students are solving problems and contributing answers to some of the most pressing problems," Smith said.
Heather Grenier, CEO of the Bozeman HRDC, said the nonprofit agency is trying to impact the lives of thousands and thousands of people every year, but the challenges are growing. Last year alone, the number of households HRDC served almost doubled.
"We can't do it alone," she said. "We can't do it without all the people here."
The Rev. Connie Campbell-Pearson from St. James Episcopal Church, the driving force behind the tiny house project, said, "Thank you. That's all I can say. I don't do anything except cheerlead you."
Smith thanked 13 companies that donated everything from windows to flooring for the tiny house. A ribbon cutting ceremony followed, then cheers.
"It's beyond my wildest dreams in terms of both functionality and beauty," said Rabbi Ed Stafman.
The Congregation Beth Shalom became involved in the tiny house project a year or two ago, Stafman said. The congregation has now contributed enough funding to pay for one tiny home by itself.
The Rev. Canon Clark Sherman, rector for St. James Episcopal Church, said he has seen Campbell-Pearson's enthusiasm for the project close-up.
"It's nice to see a dream come true," he said. "This is amazing. What a step forward."
The tiny house is located at 14 E. Glacier Court in Family Graduate Housing. From the deck on Thursday, visitors could see the snowcapped Bridger Mountains. Inside the house, they saw a ceiling that ranged from 10 to 12 feet tall, providing space for windows that allowed extra natural light. A bathroom set on the west end of the house and a bed on the east. In between were a wood floor, refrigerator, rolling cabinet and concrete counter inlaid with colorful glass shards.
Starting this summer, students will build a slightly larger house next to the original house, Johnson said. That one will be handicapped accessible. The lot will eventually hold four tiny houses, with the final two incorporating lessons learned from the first two.
The prototypes will give students a chance to design and build as well as opportunities to conduct research, Johnson said. Dian Dela Santa, for one, an architecture major from Regina, Saskatchewan, will live in the first tiny house for fall semester. She will keep track of an array of factors, such as air quality and how much energy the house uses.
Thursday evening's weather with sunshine and temperatures in the 60s was much different than the students endured earlier in the semester with snow, rain, wind and subzero temperatures. Even the mud from earlier this week dried up before the grand opening.
"It came together quite nicely. I was a little worried for a while." said Jacob Ballweber of Helena, a graduate student in architecture.
Besides serving their community, MSU students said the project gave them valuable hands-on experience. Most of the students had no construction experience before building the tiny house. Many said they appreciated the opportunity to see how their architectural drawings translated to the job site.
"I took this course because of the realism aspect to it," said Jaffe Wilde of Kalispell, a senior in architecture. "The more work I do, the more I will be able to offer the school and the community."
Henry Sorenson, professor of architecture, said that the prototypes are a culmination of the students’ training at MSU.
"So much of what we do at school is academic,” Sorenson said. “They take courses in design. They take courses in materials. They take courses in construction documents. Nothing makes that stick like designing and building."