Maximum Green in Minimal Space

Texas Tech’s Sustainable Cabin gains recognition in architectural publications.

"What's the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"

That was a question posed by author and poet Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), who is also the inspiration for a prefabricated, sustainable design-build project by the College of Architecture, the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the College of Engineering at Texas Tech University.

As the planet's reserves of water and energy sources become increasingly limited, architects must develop forms of architecture that incorporate – even celebrate – sustainable design practices. The result is a living laboratory designed for the harsh microclimate of Foard County, about 45 miles west of Wichita Falls.

Thoreau was best known for his book "Walden," a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. He built a house, 10 feet by 15 feet, furnished only with a bed, a table, a desk with a lamp, and three chairs – "one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society."

That cabin, along with Le Corbusier's Cabanon in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in Southern France, are studies of the minimal spatial needs for living. And they are examples of structures that successfully relate to their sites and to the environment, while being mindful of significant budget constraints. Together, they inspired the Sustainable Cabin, a prefab dwelling created by Texas Tech to test and quantify sustainable architectural concepts.

The Sustainable Cabin was constructed from the recycled metal chassis of a double-wide mobile home, with the exterior cladding made from corrugated iron and cedar. The inside includes bamboo flooring, yellow pine claddings and thermal insulation made from recycled cotton (mostly recycled blue jeans). The Morso stove is made from reused scrap iron, and electricity comes from photovoltaic solar panels.

The performance of these systems will be tested and evaluated. The data will then help future architects make crucial and lucrative design decisions, and help them to envision how to retrofit existing homes with sustainable technology.

Texas Tech's College of Visual and Performing Arts contributed the cabin's art, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering contributed to the building and mechanical development of the cabin.

The finished product was one of five design-build projects featured in the Dec. 2010 issue of Architectural Record. In addition, the sustainable cabin is also featured in design/architecture blog MocoLoco.

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Contact the Expert

Upe Flueckiger, associate professor, College of Architecture, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3169 ext. 264 or