Small Wonders

With the need for homeless housing solutions greater than ever, an aspirational new architecture competition is yielding innovative ways to approach domestic design

By Hillary Louise Johnson

What makes a house a home? That’s essentially the question local nonprofit E49 Foundation and the Central Valley chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIACV) asked recently, via a jointly sponsored design competition that invited local architects and students to dream up the ultimate tiny home to house the homeless.


In the end, 14 proposals were submitted for a new generation of tiny homes each clocking in at only 140 square feet or less. Among our favorites is the Unity Home (pictured above), architecture firm LPA’s entry, which demonstrates just how many big ideas can fit into an 8-by-16-foot space—for a mere $8,500 in materials (E49 enlists volunteers for the labor). One such idea was an ingenious solution to the loft bed problem: In the group’s submission, the kitchen and bath area is slightly elevated (an eco-optimized composting toilet hides in a cabinet), so that a bed—hidden underneath the kitchen floor—can be pulled out into the living space at night, as shown in the diagram below.

In addition to the obvious accessibility benefits, another bonus of eliminating the loft nook, according to LPA’s Amanda Menschel, “is that it brings so much light into the space” since there’s no longer an upper floor blocking the sun from flooding in through the planned clerestory windows. The design also includes a sloped ceiling that rises up to 10 feet high to compensate for the cozy quarters. “We wanted to give it that feeling of being open and bright, of being more spacious,” Menschel explains.

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