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Going big with a tiny home

For the past two years, Joe Romano and his students have been building tiny homes to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness in Washington. The Architecture and Design educator teaches ninth graders at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma. His lessons show students how to give back to the community through thoughtful design and construction.

Romano will admit, that before this ambitious project his background in construction was limited.

“I personally have some experience with construction with building fences, building decks in my back yard, but I’ve never seen a house from a pile of lumber all the way into a built structure.”

However, Romano was inspired by the work of a non-profit called Sawhorse Revolution, which is based in Seattle. The organization gave Romano guidance and even some funding the first year.

Getting the pedagogy right

The pedagogy for the project is key for Romano. He starts by teaching students about human-centered design. Then he transfers that skillset into designing a tiny home for those experiencing homelessness.

“So we’ll do some work around the factors and the experience of homelessness in order to inform design decisions we make, but also to understand why we’re tackling this project.”

Students go through a lot of steps before construction starts. They draft a house on paper and then transfer that into SketchUp. They do site visits and interview residents. And they get feedback from professional architects and make revisions.

They usually hit the ground running and begin construction after Christmas break.

Tiny Home Students
Credit: Joe Romano

Giving back

Romano says his students understand the gravity of what they’re doing. t The home that they’re constructing this year will ultimately end up at the Nickelsville community in Seattle. It’s a student project that could change someone’s life.

“They see the difference between their everyday lives and the lives of the people in those communities,” says Romano. “They understand the impact that they can have.”

Romano says the ninth graders are doing 80-90 percent of the work and that some days he’s just fetching tools. He says they do contract with a master carpenter for some of the more difficult tasks like cobbling together the rafters.

One of the ways Romano accesses his students is he has them put together a portfolio of the project. They take pictures and write reflections about teamwork, challenges, and the skills learned.

“And then they’ll write a final reflection when they’re sitting in the house, about the total project,”

Romano says it’s heartwarming for him to see his students thoughts in writing.

“I never know how much they value the meaningfulness of the work we’re doing except from these portifolio reflections.”

To hear more about the tiny house project, listen to Episode 97 of the Class Dismissed Podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.

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