Little Houses on the Black River
- Project: Little Houses on the Black River
- Location: Hällefors, Sweden
- Year: 2006
- Participating Schools: Parsons School of Design BFA Product Design Jr. Furniture Studio; St. Etienne School of Art and Design (France); Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft and Design (Sweden)
- Parsons Faculty and Staff: Tony Whitfield (Chair), Keith Doyle, Robert Kirkbride, Stefanie Kubanek, William Newhouse
- Parsons Students: Nara Almeida, Veronica Choi, Kimberly Fischer, Mauricio Gomez, Nicolas Guzman, Jeon Mi Hong, Carissa Lo, Sara Musselman, Ethan Tseng, Joseph Whang, and Alexander Yoo
- Photography: Robert Kirkbride
- Exhibited at: ICFF 2006 (NYC); St. Etienne Biennale 2006
- Award: Editors’ Choice Award for Best Design School Entry, 2006 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (NYC)
Conceived as a collaboration among students and faculty from Parsons, Konstfack and St. Etienne, Little Houses on the Black River was developed across the 2005-06 academic year to explore potentials of sustainable shelter. In need of temporary housing for designers, scholars and visitors, the House of Design (Formens Hus) sponsored a proposal by Tony Whitfield (Chair, Parsons BFA Product Design) and Lars Wieselgren (Manager, Formens Hus) to design and construct seasonal dwellings on a former industrial railway bridge over the Black River. This site offers visitors a reminder of the town’s industrial heritage, while serving as a model for the adaptive reuse of existing infrastructure. The existing bridge and its rails also provided a ready-made foundation for the new dwellings, minimizing the ecological impact of construction.
Drawing inspiration from Swedish garden-cabins (friggebodar), small multi-use structures of approximately 10m2, students designed and manufactured two self-sustaining artist-in-residence dwellings and furnishings. Teams from Parsons and St. Etienne each developed one mobile sleeping/resting car, while Konstfack students devised provisions to equip inhabitants for their stay. The Parsons dwelling unit, which was developed in Junior Furniture Design and Prototyping studios led by Stefanie Kubanek, Keith Doyle, and myself, was conceived as a kit-of-parts to be palletized, retailed, and potentially deployed in circumstances of natural and manmade disasters.
A third structure, the Hällefors Gatehouse, or “wet unit,” provided residents with a 10m2 shared kitchen, dining/work area, shower and a waterless Danfo toilet. This structure was designed by me, based on a program determined with students and faculty in an intensive design-build timeline. The three structures and their supporting deck, built directly onto the existing rails, were installed in ten days by Parsons faculty and staff. As such, the project pursued the notion of sustainability in a zone between traditional practices of architecture and product design, through an integration of “universal” product and immediate context (site and cultural memory), with the aim to unite regional wisdom with global concerns.
Prior to its construction in Sweden, the Parsons mobile unit was first installed at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City in May 2006, where it received the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Design School Entry. Two weeks later, students and faculty gathered in Sweden, where we constructed and installed the small cluster of dwellings under the auspices of the midsummer Scandinavian sun, with sponsorship from the Formens Hus, IKEA, and local manufacturers. Later that year, the project was exhibited in the 2006 St. Etienne Biennale. I’ve written further about the Little Houses project in the article “Upstream/Downstream,” and it has been featured in the books Tiny Houses, and Spacecraft as well as the journals C3, Metropolis, Mark Magazine, Azure, surface, and Metropolitan Home.