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Aggies design, build 'tiny homes' for homeless as part of curriculum

Aggies design, build 'tiny homes' for homeless as part of curriculum

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Before walking the graduation stage Friday at Reed Arena, construction science major Austin Dale got the opportunity to punctuate his time at Texas A&M by giving something back.

Dale was one of 30 architecture students who worked during the spring semester on building two "tiny homes" that will be donated to Community First! Village -- a 27-acre community in Austin designed to provide affordable housing and amenities to the disabled and chronically homeless. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 19,177 homeless people in Texas in 2014.

The two 150-square-foot homes were on display at Rudder Plaza on Thursday and will be open to the public again on Friday.

"I'm actually kind of upset that I can't be there and see the person who gets to live in this house because that's what makes it worth it, to see them become a homeowner," Dale said. "I'm excited to be a part of it and it hasn't really been done before, and I'm excited to be a part of something that gives back. I'm excited and proud. It's an awesome opportunity and an awesome class."

The 30 undergraduate students were divided into two teams of 15 -- five construction design and 10 construction sciences students. The designs for the two houses came from a contest held by A&M's Center for Housing and Urban Development in the fall of 2014. The students spent the first 10 weeks of the semester refining the designs, and the final eight on construction, Dale said. The students were given a $9,000 budget for building materials and a 7x18-foot trailer to build the homes on so they could be transported to Austin this summer.

Dale said that his team went for a "rustic Texas feel" with their maroon-accented cedar house. A large metal star hangs over the front door and inside a horse head skull with the Texas flag painted on it hangs over cedar shelves supported by metal piping.

In contrast, the other house has a white interior with lightly-colored wooden shelves. Construction science senior Laura Malek said her team's approach was an "easy, minimal design" that kept shelves and furniture low to the floor.

"The main goal in our design was just making a space that was open, that was easy to use for the owner," Malek said, "and something that had a lot of storage and a lot of space for them to put their belongings and feel like home."

The homes will be two of about 150 to 200 in Community First! Village, which will open in July, development director Donna Emery said. In addition to the tiny homes, the community will also offer renovated RVs as a housing option. Among the amenities provided in the community are an outdoor theater, six acres of gardens with an area for chickens, goats and beehives, and a medical building.

Emery, A&M class of 1988, said that A&M architecture professor Ben Bigelow reached out to her to contribute to the community because "he was looking for a project to engage students that would make a real impact."

"To come back to A&M and see these construction and architecture students who have really put their heart and soul into this project and for them to recognize they're making a difference and an impact ... it really embodies so many things about A&M -- all of the things like the Big Event are about going back into the community and serving," Emery said.

Malek said working on a project that was going to help a "great cause" was a huge motivator during the process. The project also mimicked a real-life work environment, she said, by bringing together students who wouldn't normally work together.

"Today was so much fun," she said. "It was amazing to actually see our work in place and actually get some outside feedback. It felt a little surreal to finally see it there today finished and painted. It meant a lot. People seemed to really enjoy the space and that felt really great after our hard work."

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