Cool Class: Applied Design Solutions

April 11, 2019

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Joshua Almond and his students working to weatherproof the exterior of a tiny home class project.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Hammers in hand, Rollins students are exploring big concepts by building a tiny house.

Tumbleweed Salsa Box. The name might sound like a fiery entree at a dusty border cantina, but it’s actually the make and model of a 96-square-foot tiny house under construction on the Rollins campus.

Every Saturday morning this spring, 17 students in studio art professor Joshua Almond’s Rollins Foundations in the Liberal Arts (rFLA) capstone course Applied Design Solutions gathered outside the Cornell Fine Arts Museum to assemble their micro masterpiece, all the while meeting twice a week to study issues of sustainability, affordable housing, and climate change. Think of it as a hands-on way to spice up the liberal arts with practical life skills.

Professor Joshua Almond sitting at the desk with a student explaining tiny home concepts.
Photo by Scott Cook.


Joshua Almond, associate professor of art

A student on a ladder reaching up to seal in the window of a tiny home class project.
Photo by Scott Cook.
Professor Almond marking on a piece of pvc pipe as a group of girls are standing around holding staplers and talking.
Photo by Scott Cook.

The Scoop

Apart from watching tutorial videos and consulting outside experts to ensure everything is up to code, Rollins students are doing all the work themselves. Right beside them is art professor Joshua Almond, a former contractor and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

“There are two or three in the class who have made things before,” says Almond, “but none have experience building houses or doing anything related to electricity or plumbing. Teaching them how to hammer in two-by-fours, drill screws, and wiring basic electrical outlets—these are good, common-sense things to know how to do around your house. But the learning curve is fairly steep.”

In addition to building the actual house, students are using 3-D modeling software to rapid-prototype a tiny home of their own design.

Students use FormZ 3-D computer modeling software to create their own tiny-house designs.Photos by Scott Cook.

“I didn’t put many parameters on this part of the project,” says Almond, “so some of them are getting really wild with their designs. But all are giving consideration to sustainability and affordability. That’s kind of the nature of the class.”

Upon completion in early May, the tiny house will either be sold, donated to charity, or installed on campus for students to experience in some form. Either way, says Almond, he wants to keep the momentum going, perhaps even building one of the students’ designs in semesters to come.

A female college student stapling exterior weather proofing to the tiny home class project while wincing.
Photo by Scott Cook.
Professor Joshua Almond and college student kneeling in the doorway of a tiny home class project as she is using a drill to screw on a piece of plywood.
Photo by Scott Cook.


We dropped in on the class just as they were putting down the last of the donuts and picking up their staple guns on a beautiful Saturday spring morning. The students spent about four hours weatherproofing the tiny house with Everbilt wrap, a micro-perforated weather-resistant barrier that goes underneath the siding to block air transfer and helps the homeowner save on heating and cooling costs. Next up: window installation.

Photos by Scott Cook.

Student Perspective

Studio art major Christine Cole ’20 appreciates how the course’s hands-on nature helps her learn skills and trades that can be applied outside the classroom.

“This class allows us to discuss big concepts like homelessness and sustainability,” she says, “while also teaching us how to hammer a nail into wood, how to downsize our material possessions, and how to digitally render buildings.”

Did You Know?

Tiny homes, which typically range from 96 to 400 square feet, come in all shapes and styles. Rollins’ version, mounted to an 8-by-12-foot trailer, features a kitchen, shower, compostable toilet, loft bed, couch/futon, and porch overhang with a living garden. To meet code, the weight cannot exceed 10,000 pounds.

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