It’s a distinctly Austin-flavored question for the ages: Where does one go next after giving away most of one’s worldly possessions and (voluntarily) moving into a 33-square-foot trash receptacle for an entire year?
If your name happens to be Dr. Jeff Wilson — aka Professor Dumpster of Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University — you return to “normal.”
“Normal,” of course, is not doing away with mortgage payments and a soul-sucking daily commute to reside inside of a smartly retrofitted on-campus dumpster as part of an exercise in less: consuming less, wasting less, living with less. It’s not squeezing into a cramped space roughly 1 percent the size of the average American dwelling.
After his 12-month dumpster stint, an experience he described to the Washington Post as “an insane idea on the surface, and it may be an insane idea below the surface,” Wilson has indeed returned to the bill-paying, cohabitating land of the “normal.” However, the Drake-quoting environmental science professor hasn’t stopped exploring big ideas in the world of small-scale sustainable living.
In collaboration with Austin real estate developer Taylor Wilson (no relation) and SolarCity industrial designer Remy LaBesque, Wilson recently launched his latest venture, an urban micro-living startup called Kasita that revolves around portable studio apartments. Geared toward city-hopping Millennials, Kasita imagines a plug-and-play urban housing model that’s one part mobile home and one part tricked-out smart dwelling. Essentially, these are sleek, stylish and compact (208-square-feet) apartment units that you can take with you.
Relocating from Austin to Seattle or another city that’s in the throes of an affordable housing crisis? No need to partake in a dispiriting apartment hunt as your Kasita unit can come with you and be stacked in an existing “rack” of Kasita units (more on this in a bit). While the city around you may be wildly different, your apartment, including everything in it, remains the same.
“What’s really interesting about this is it’s really testing the limits of what you need in a home,” Wilson says. And while Kasita is a completely dumpster-free affair, Wilson’s experience living inside of a converted trash receptacle influenced his latest endeavor:
While the dumpster was, in many ways, an impractical dwelling, there were a surprising number of perks: it could move anywhere; rent was low; commutes were short; and the local neighborhood became an intimate living room. As the experiment drew to a close, Wilson took what he’d learned and returned to the drawing board where Kasita came to life, a new category of home that married iconic design and pioneering technology with insights gleaned from a trashcan.
Wilson and his team are quick to point out that the modular Kasita units are very much not shipping container dwellings. And they’re certainly not traditional tiny homes, given the absence of wheels, sleeping lofts and pitched roofs. Although Kasita does sport some similarities to both of these modes of sustainable housing, Wilson’s vision is more akin to a prefab micro-apartment development but with a unique emphasis on portability.
In addition to a range of standard amenities including a full bathroom with walk-in shower and smartly designed kitchenette outfitted with cooktop, convection oven and fridge, each Kasita unit includes a queen-sized transformer bed, nifty modular tile storage system and a cantilevered glass cube that acts as sort of mini-solarium. The whole shebang — centered around LaBesque’s cutting-edge design, the units are approached more as habitable products than houses — is equipped with integrated smart home technology. Obviously, the units also boast a touch more natural light that Wilson’s previous digs.
“It's a whole new category of home," Wilson recently explained to Austin Business Journal. "It's a cross between an Apple cube and an iPhone." Wilson goes on to equate Kasita as the “love-child” between his erstwhile dumpster home and the more traditional micro-apartment developments being built by collaborator Taylor Wilson in Austin. “We didn't hire a single architect," Jeff Wilson adds. "We wanted something created by someone completely outside the (conventional) field.
As for all important utilities, Kasita smart apartments plug right into municipal water and electric supplies after being installed in its “rack” — a steel framework erected on vacant/undevelopable urban lots in which the individual units are slid into place in individual slots, stacked three high and three across. An entirely new take on urban infill, the studio apartment-filled racks are vaguely reminiscent of stacked mechanical parking lots common in Manhattan.
While Jeff and Taylor Wilson along with the Kasita design team plan to erect the first “rack” next year in Austin, they’re also eying a handful of affordable housing-strapped cities so that the concept can reach its full portable potential: Denver, Portland, Seattle, Tucson, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C. and avant-garde art hotspot, Marfa, Texas. Outside of the United States, Stockholm is also a target city. The startup hopes to intro Kasita in these additional cities in 2017.
The logistics behind relocating a Kasita unit couldn’t be simpler … at least on paper. Let’s say, again, you live in Austin and need to relocate to Seattle for work. Just request a move via the Kasita smartphone app and the company will take care of the rest, including transporting the unit and all of your possessions with it via truck to its next destination where it's slid into place.
In addition to launching the concept in downtown Austin where two vacant lots have already been secured by the startup, Wilson and co. also hope to fabricate the units themselves in Central Texas. “It’s very important to put the manufacturing jobs here,” Wilson tells the Business Journal.
And while Kasita is envisioned, in Austin at least, as an affordable rental development (monthly rent would be in the ballpark of $600/month) for wanderlust-y young professionals, the startup is also considering the possibilities of opening up the concept to other populations including students and transient workforces.
Wilson tells local ABC affiliate KVUE: "Yeah, we're making a cool house. Yeah, we're making a small thing that moves around, but the people of this city and the people in America can no longer afford to live in the cities that they love and that's the heart of the problem we're going after."
Via [Austin Business Journal], [KVUE]