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K-State Today

August 30, 2016

Stowe award winners research tiny houses as possible answer to affordable housing

Submitted by Anne Rubash

Julia Day and Brandon Irwin

After attending the same meeting, Julia Day, assistant professor of interior design, and Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology, discovered that they had common interests. Mainly, to save the world. Day's research background in energy use, sustainable building design and occupant behaviors, coupled with Irwin's experience with the interpersonal aspects of health and physical activity will steer the "Tiny Houses, Titan Impact: An ecological approach to impacting public health through affordable housing" project.

This collaboration earned Day and Irwin the 2016 Dean Barbara S. Stowe Faculty Development Award from the College of Human Ecology based on their intent to conduct research, teaching and outreach activities that could lead to an increase in affordable, sustainable and healthy housing. With this grant, Day and Irwin will travel to different sites of tiny house villages to research the creation, functionality and impact of the tiny house movement on affordable housing, public health and sustainability.

The duo will use the Stowe award to visit tiny house villages in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, Oregon, Washington and California to collect data and interview those living the villages. Data collected will inform the viability of the tiny house movement to address the issues of sustainability, affordable housing and impact on the community in which they exist. Day and Irwin hope to answer how these villages impact health, how the design choices impact health and well-being, barriers to creating these villages and most simply — but mostly unanswered in the scant research available — how these villages look, feel and function. 

Day and Irwin's research will inform application possibilities in the Manhattan community and help them develop an interdisciplinary course that will challenge students to utilize a built environment to promote public health and physical activity. This course intends to pull in students from various majors to discuss the pair's findings, developments and the ecological viability of the tiny house movement.

Currently, the team is finishing a tiny house built on a 28-foot trailer for Irwin's future private residence. In building this new domicile, Day and Irwin have both experienced the process of seeing an initial idea turn into a design — one of Day's strengths — and a physical reality. During the build, both have had the opportunity to discuss tiny housing with and drum up support from area builders, suppliers, code enforcement, the mayor of Manhattan, city commissioners and many others — utilizing this exemplary personal build as leverage to raise awareness about affordable housing in the Manhattan community.

Stowe served as dean of human ecology at K-State from 1983 to 1998. The fund, established in her honor, supports the professional development of outstanding faculty who translate research-based knowledge of human ecology into practice in higher education, business, industry or public policy. This award will provide Day and Irwin funding to support expenses incurred during a professional development experience that advances the college mission.

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