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Tiny home prototype to go on display in Cambridge

Students from the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo, Cambridge Campus, have completed construction of a tiny home prototype, and it is now ready to be shown

Cambridge residents will soon be able to see exactly what a tiny home in the community could look like.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo are working in partnership with the City of Cambridge to explore the possibility of tiny homes to create housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness in the region.  

Students from the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo, Cambridge Campus, have completed construction of a tiny home prototype, and it is now ready to be shown.

The research project, Assessing the viability of tiny homes to address housing insecurity in the Region of Waterloo, is led by Martine August, assistant professor, School of Planning at the University of Waterloo, Adrian Blackwell, associate director of Research in the School of Architecture and John McMinn, professor at the School of Architecture.

“We are excited to partner with the City of Cambridge and we look forward to ongoing collaborations in the future,” August said.

“Working with the city, the region, and local partners to plan our next stages. I do think that once we find a site for tiny homes to be built and for the future of tiny homes, we will need partners to operate and manage this housing.”

August, along with Blackwell and McMinn, presented findings recently at a city council meeting outlining research so far, steps taken, and plans for future research including photos of the tiny home prototype.

“A picture is worth a thousand words and to see the photograph, you can certainly see the results,” said Cambridge mayor, Kathryn McGarry.

“Thank you for the work you have done so far on this project. We have been very excited to see the result.”

August said the next stage is to find an appropriate site for the newly completed prototype where the public can come and see the tiny home.

“We hope to get feedback from people who have lived in tiny homes and those who have experienced homelessness. They will notice things that we have not,” August said.  

The City of Cambridge helped fund the research initiative with a contribution of $15,000 which began in the fall, 2021.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the School of Architecture as they work through the initial few phases of their research,” said Brooke Lambert, director of Corporate Strategy with the City of Cambridge.

“At this point, we are looking at council to provide some direction in terms of making this prototype available for viewing so that people can understand what it looks like, see how it feels, and then how it would be taken further in terms of housing options in the future.”

Preliminary research included governance, location, site planning, and construction of a prototype tiny home as part of a design build studio held in at the School of Architecture.

August said the establishment of successful tiny home communities resulted from cities adopting a supportive stance in assisting with a range of things such as providing land, helping with zoning, providing support for water and electricity, and social services.

The second element of research by the team at the University of Waterloo looked at the location of tiny homes in the Region of Waterloo. A student researcher undertook a review of papers that surveyed housing insecure people for their needs and proximity to essential services.

“The third element of research looked at site planning for aggregate housing communities. A detailed analysis was done of six case studies of communities that could replace housing options at different locations on the housing continuum,” Blackwell said.  

In addition to detailed comparisons of 12 tiny home communities, many communities shared basic facilities including showers and toilets. In contrast, more permanent tiny home villages often contained their own basic facilities while still sharing some facilities, such as a community hall or shared kitchen, helped to create a greater sense of community in these forms of housing.

Blackwell and McMinn conducted a fall term design build studio in 2021 at the School of Architecture, where 16 students designed and constructed a tiny home prototype to serve as a transitional solution for those who are homeless in Cambridge.

“They came to the conclusion that a standard stick frame construction with a composite insulation wall was the optimal approach in the region,” McMinn said.

“We looked at a number of different assemblies. Construction will continue over the summer.”

The tiny home includes a kitchen, bathroom, retractable bed area, solar light, and a greenhouse.

Climate was a huge factor. McMinn said Ontario has one of the ‘widest swings’ in terms of climate conditions of any highly populated area in the world.

“What we found that with a very small space, that is very well insulated, it won’t take much to heat it. And with a green house construction, the idea that the home can be something that shrinks down in size in the coldest part of the year, and then expands in the summer with the greenhouse, means there is an optimization of space, energy efficiency and livability,” McMinn said.

“This is one of the things we are most excited about, and we would like to display in the city so people can see this combined heated and unheated phase, an optimized configuration.”

Councillor Pam Wolf said she likes the idea of doubling the space depending on the season.

“It’s an an excellent use of material. We also cocoon in the winter, and then in the summer, we want to spread out," Wolf said.

Future research will include collecting feedback from experienced groups regarding the prototype that has been built. August said this will include engagement with residents from the Bridges in Cambridge, for example, and a Better Tent City in Kitchener to learn more about what they think about the building design, layout, and ideas for site plan arrangements.

“We request the opportunity for city staff to work with our team to locate the first prototype tiny house on City of Cambridge property in order to gather feedback from city staff, and potential residents on all aspects of its design,” August said.  

Councillor Mike Mann said he appreciates the work that has gone into the project.

“We are excited here in Cambridge to put these prototypes on display," he said.

City staff will report back to council with next steps for the project and prototype site location.

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community. She joined CambridgeToday in 2021
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