July 29, 2019 Architecture Students Design/Build Micro Houses Using Digital Fabrication

Our nationally commended Design/Build Program allows our students to translate their creative ideas into tangible products. We are committed to using our design knowledge and capabilities for good, as part of the University of Tennessee’s land-grant mission. Recently, we used this passion and expertise to explore future living conditions. 

one of the student groups' micro houses, the plus pod for future UT dorm residents

During spring 2019, James Rose, adjunct assistant professor of Architecture, and students in his studio explored, designed and built two micro houses, intended to serve different groups of future residents. 

A micro house is smaller than a tiny house, a structure designed to minimize livable space while maintaining the typical definition of a house. Unlike tiny houses, micro houses are designed and built to be used in groups, embracing a sense of community.  

Rose’s goals for this studio experience involved identifying underhoused individuals and delving into minimized living spaces, digital fabrication, abstract designs transformed into physical realities and net zero energy design. Net-zero energy means the amount of energy used yearly by these micro houses is equal to or less than the amount of energy created by the micro house.

one student group with their micro house

“I wanted each team to use science fiction to visualize creative, non-standard approaches to future living conditions,” Rose said. “Students also gained experience with construction from digital fabrication to power and hand tools while designing net-zero units that could be transportable.” 

Each team researched groups of people who live in areas where there is a lack of housing. These groups included students, homeless people, refugees and more. Next, the studio considered minimum living conditions related to psychological, spatial, hygienic and storage needs.

After researching, the student teams created designs for net-zero, community-style micro houses to serve different groups. One team focused on future student housing on UT’s campus while the other focused on housing for displaced groups

“Hands-on design/build experience changes the perspective of the designer,” said Michaela Stanfill, 3rd-year Architecture student. “We are no longer just designers. We are now makers, and with that evolution comes new pathways to design.” 

a model of the plus pod micro house that shows it in a community style and in a truck for transportation

Each team used digital fabrication, hands-on construction and our 20,000-square-foot digital fabrication space, the Fab Lab, to create a prototype of their structure. 

“The process was not streamlined, and there were many hiccups and reworking of elements,” Stanfill said. “It was a great experience, and I was blessed with a cooperative team and fantastic professor to guide us through this unknown territory of design/build.”