Small Houses, BIG IMPACT

They’ve already had their final review and received their grades. But this summer, some University of Texas at Arlington students have volunteered to continue work on a project they started last semester.

While the project may be small in size (360 square feet and 390 square feet to be exact), it’s a big accomplishment for a group that was learning the tools and processes of construction.

“So, for those who basically didn’t really even have serious power tool experience, to pull off what they did in four months is pretty incredible,” says Brad McCorkle, a UTA architecture lecturer and alumni.

So what did they pull off?

Over the past two semesters, a group of 20 students from the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs designed and built a pair of micro houses as their senior project for “Parallel Construction.”

Parallel Construction is a design/build studio. The fall semester focuses on design and planning. The actual construction takes place over the spring semester.

“It’s kind of interesting. Last fall when we started out, we asked students if they thought they would return in the spring for the construction part, and only about a half of the students in the class thought they would do the whole thing,” says McCorkle. “By the end of the fall, they were already invested enough in the project that everybody returned, except for two students.”

And they’ve decided to return – again – even though school is out.

While the modern units may look complete on the outside, the students simply ran out of time. Some finishing touches, such as drywall and lighting, need to be completed on the interior before the micro houses are moved to their permanent locations.

The university hopes to “find homes” for the homes by the end of summer. One of them will be sold, and that money will be reinvested into the Parallel Construction program. The second house will be donated to an organization such as Habitat for Humanity or Veterans Affairs.

McCorkle says a majority of the funds and supplies needed to build these micro homes were donated. The university only had to buy the actual tools, which, of course, will be used for future projects.

The next project is working with The Housing Network (formerly The Tarrant County Housing Authority) to design and build a 1,500-square-foot family home near AT&T Stadium. That work will take place in the fall 2017 and spring 2018 semesters.

“The beauty of design/build is that the students not only design down to the last nut, bolt and screw, but then they have to turn around and build it,” says McCorkle.

Jocelyn Valles, a Parallel Construction student, says the hands-on experience translates into a better understanding between architects and general contractors. “The architect can easily draw lines assuming that it can be built because he or she usually has zero background experience in construction. This design/build course allowed students the opportunity to gain construction experience and prepare them for situations that they will face in their professional career.”

The micro houses currently sit on the same lot along Davis Drive where they were constructed. They’ve become a point of interest for North Texans. “It was a daily occurrence that students were giving tours, and on weekends, they might give five or six tours during the course of the day,” says McCorkle. “It’s been amazing the kind of response that they’ve gotten.”

Tiny houses have gained popularity thanks in part to several cable television shows. You can tune into “Tiny House Hunters”, “Tiny House, Big Living” and “Tiny House Builders” on HGTV. And the FYI network airs “Tiny House World” and “Tiny House Nation.”

“People are realizing you don’t have to have a 4,000-square-foot house to be happy,” says McCorkle. “You know, they don’t want to spend all of their time and effort working to pay for a mortgage. I think a lot of it is people are looking to simplify.”

Parallel Construction has existed for four semesters, and the program continues to step up the scale of projects. In the past, students tackled urban farm components and small multi-functional pavilions that could be used for bus stops, information kiosks and business incubators.

But McCorkle, who leads the design/build project, had always wanted to do micro houses. Since there are dozens of design/build programs across the country, he believes the micro house project could set the University of Texas at Arlington apart from its competition.

“I really enjoyed doing the micro houses,” says McCorkle, “And I think it’s something we could probably take to the next level, thinking about ease of moving, how they are constructed, and continuing to evolve spatially how they work.”

But regardless of the materials they use or the blueprints they follow, there’s no doubt these UTA students are building a bright future for themselves – and their clients.

Toni Randle-Cook

Toni Randle-Cook is a contributing writer for AT Magazine.