Tiny Houses

25 July 2014


On June 4, cityLAB signed an agreement with Wildman Chalmers Design, LLC to design and build the Minim Tiny House soon taking up residence on N. Atlantic Avenue. cityLAB sat down with the project’s architect, Chad Chalmers, to ask him about our plans in Garfield. Chad is a graduate of the University of Buffalo, has worked as an architect for over ten years, and is currently pursuing an MBA at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business.

cL: What projects have you worked on in the past?

CC: I’ve worked on a variety of projects including mixed-used with residential above and retail. I really like inner city mixed use projects with residences above commercial spaces. They make people feel like they are participating in the community. They live upstairs and shop downstairs, becoming part of the neighborhood during the daytime. I’ve also worked with a lot of nonprofits in the past. These are always largely about community.

 cL: Any project that you’re most proud?

CC: Croghan’s Edge, on 36th and Penn Avenue (part of the design team while with Moss Architects), is four townhouses that are each just sixteen feet wide. They were manufactured in a central Pennsylvania factory and shipped to Pittsburgh ready to live in, with all the finishes completed. Croghan’s Edge won an American Institute of Architects (AIA) award in 2012. I’d like to bring some of these ideas to cityLAB’s Tiny House project. It might work well to manufacture the house, and ship it complete to the site. We would pour the foundations, set the box and provide a turn-key product for a buyer. We would work with a local manufacturer who builds pre-fab houses on a regular basis.

cL: What’s different about building a Tiny House?

CC: The major difference in Pittsburgh is that Minim is single story and has small appliances. Everything is scaled down, a little unconventional and smaller. We will still need to use conventional materials to build this smaller house. Building a tiny house is almost like building an hotel room. You have to provide everything (sometimes even a kitchenette) within a 200-300 square foot room.

 cL: Is there anything easier?

I always say, ‘a project is a project.’ There’s no such thing as a small project in my opinion. We will still have to follow the same process we would follow if we were building a 2,500 square-foot house versus a 400 square-foot house. We will still have to provide water, sewer and electric hookups. We will still have zoning issues and site plans to create. We will still have to consider solar orientation, insulation, roofing, windows, doors and more. Designing a 400 square-foot house versus a 2,500 square-foot  house still takes all the same planning. We might be planning for only two doors instead of ten, but we will still have to select the doors. It’s exactly the same process.

cL: How will you deal with Garfield market and the Pittsburgh Zoning Code?

CC: According to cityLAB’s surveys and discussions with potential buyers, gardens are an important amenity for people interested in living in a tiny house. We’ll need to incorporate outside space into our tiny house seamlessly. Integrating the house with the outdoor space is going to be critical. We’ll consider putting in a yard, a garden, perhaps a raised surface such as a deck. We want to use quality materials. Zoning codes issues include setback from the side, rear and front, curb cuts, as well as the contextual fabric of the street.

In the second half of the interview, we ask our architect about materials, how Minim will fit into the streetscape and what challenges he sees in the project. Stay tuned!

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