For its next project, KU’s Studio 804 proposes tiny-home village for homeless people

A portion of the site plan the Lawrence Community Shelter submitted to the City of Lawrence shows the layout for a tiny-home village behind the shelter's current building.

A University of Kansas architecture program is proposing to build a tiny-home village that will provide housing for homeless people.

The Studio 804 tiny-home project, Monarch Village, is a change from past projects, which typically involve energy-efficient single-family homes that are sold on the open market. Under the proposed partnership with the Lawrence Community Shelter, Studio 804 would essentially donate the design services, materials and labor to construct the project.

Dan Rockhill, a KU distinguished professor who has led Studio 804 since its inception, said he was prompted to take on the project when he learned of the family housing situation at the shelter. The shelter currently houses families in a large room segmented into smaller living spaces with limited privacy, and Rockhill said he wanted to contribute to a better plan.

“Here I am building these unique energy-efficient houses that I sell to people who can afford them,” Rockhill said. “But when you go over there and you walk through and you see how people live who are far less advantaged than myself, my students or the people I sell houses, you can’t help but feel, what can I do here?”

Under the proposal, Studio 804 would build 12 tiny homes on the grounds of the Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St. The homes would be 160 square feet and include a shower, toilet, kitchenette and two sleeping quarters, according to plans provided to the city. The tiny homes would be placed in pairs, with each pair sharing a covered patio. The village itself would be situated behind the shelter’s current building, with the tiny homes surrounding the shelter’s existing community garden. Plans call for the addition of a butterfly garden with walkways and a commons area with picnic tables.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The community garden at the Lawrence Community Shelter is pictured July 16, 2020. A University of Kansas architecture program is proposing to build a tiny-home village around the garden.

Rockhill said he envisioned the project before the coronavirus pandemic, but the privacy of the tiny homes provides a related benefit. The shelter’s city permit application indicates that although the tiny homes will primarily provide housing for families, they may also be used to isolate people for health reasons.

A news release from the Lawrence Community Shelter states that in the short term the tiny homes will make it possible for the shelter to quarantine guests on site, and in the long term will help the shelter provide “dignified, healing-focused” shelter options.

“This is a magical gift that Dan is offering us,” LCS Executive Director Renee Kuhl said in the release. “Gifts like these don’t fall into the laps of homeless shelters. Without Studio 804’s generous offer of design services, labor and construction costs, we couldn’t possibly afford a much-needed addition like this.”

The shelter’s city permit application indicates that each tiny home can house a maximum or four people, including up to two adults, for a total maximum capacity of 48 people. The shelter is not requesting to increase the total capacity allowed on the site, which is 125 people most of the time and 140 people during cold weather. Kuhl previously told the Journal-World that the shelter is currently housing far fewer people because of the pandemic and the shelter’s goal to rapidly house as many people as possible.

A portion of the site plan the Lawrence Community Shelter submitted to the City of Lawrence shows the layout for a pair of tiny homes.

The tiny home project requires a special use permit and building permits, the latter of which are approved administratively. The Planning Commission is scheduled to consider a recommendation regarding the special use permit at its meeting Monday — city planning staff is recommending approval of the permit — and that recommendation will then go to the City Commission for final consideration.

Rockhill said once the special use permit and building permits are approved, the plan is to begin construction on the tiny home village in September and have the project complete “no later than spring.” He noted that constructing several smaller units will also enhance the architecture students’ ability to practice social distancing, and that safety protocols put in place last academic year due to the pandemic, including daily temperature checks, will continue.

Studio 804 is a not-for-profit corporation committed to the continued research and development of sustainable, affordable and inventive building solutions, according to its website. Rockhill said the tiny-home project seeks to maintain the same quality of work and sustainable features found in other Studio 804 projects. He said that if the tiny home project is successful, his plan is for Monarch Village to be a template for future projects that could further address homelessness in Lawrence.


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