Shelters provide relief to the homeless, but they don’t offer much hope for a better life. Sleeping and showering in a shared space means a high risk of theft or assault. Lack of secure storage makes it hard to break out of the cycle, as you can’t exactly bring all your belongings into a job interview. And imagine what staying in a group home does to your dignity.
Cities are exploring single occupancy units as a means to provide better privacy and safety, improving the odds of successful transition to a permanent home. Recently, the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held a competition to design tiny houses for a specific homeless population: college-age youth. An AIA jury picked the winning design, a 336-square-foot floor plan with a full kitchen, living space, bedroom nook, and full bath. A prototype was built in two days, at a cost of $73 per square foot, and displayed at the Tiny Home Summit held at University of Illinois – Chicago last month.
This NPR report describes some of the aesthetic and security features of the winning design. In the team’s plan, several units get built side by side in townhouse style, with a gated entry to the complex and a common courtyard. The brick exteriors discourage break-ins and visually fit into the Bronzeville neighborhood where the community would take shape.
Though the townhouses were designed for temporary shelter, they would work equally well as permanent homes. I love the wedge shape and the efficient layout, using the headroom to enclose a bathroom with a storage loft above (which could double as sleeping space for guests). I also like how multiple units can share walls without looking institutional, although a long butterfly roof drains poorly with water and debris getting trapped in the valley. There’s tremendous potential to use the tiny townhouse concept in urban environments, getting high-density occupancy without resorting to a high-rise apartment.
For more details, here are two articles from Windy City Times about the design competition winners and the subsequent Tiny Home Summit.