The Culture and Production of Home: Encouraging Sustainable Lifestyle Through Tiny Dwellings


The Culture and Production of Home: Encouraging Sustainable Lifestyle Through Tiny Dwellings


Robin Wilder
Montana State University


Steven P. Juroszek, Thomas McNab, & Jaya Mukhopadhyay
Montana State University



This project rose to the top for its pragmatism and rational. The design is well-adapted for the cold, dry climate in Montana. The students integrated ventilation, light, and air to optimize environmental benefits and create a pleasant environment. The project also addresses larger social issues affecting the region, such as affordable housing and employment.


approach / program / intentions / strategies

Affordable housing in the Gallatin Valley of Montana is a growing concern: home prices rise and availability declines as population and diversity grow. New residents of the valley are forced to buy into rapid, under-regulated development, destroying the very amenities that attract them to Big Sky Country.

The way Montanans build homes and inhabit place is deeply rooted in cultural tradition, and has become disjointed from an understanding of environment and efficiency. Living small is a possible solution, allowing a high quality of life in a tight footprint.

This project proposes a facility for public education and tiny home prefabrication. The program includes a fabrication space, design office, administration office, lecture hall, gallery, meeting spaces, kitchen, dining room, and employee lounge and lockers. The total building area is 26,100 square feet. The exterior grounds include an ecological water treatment system, vegetable garden, small recreation areas, three model homes, and a small amount of car parking.

This project argues that through experiential learning a person’s deepest values can change; it proposes a facility that allows people to see and feel the idea of efficient living; it is the catalyst needed for sustainable development and healthy population growth in the Gallatin Valley.


This project proposes a unique connection point between production, culture, and education. By co-locating the design and construction of tiny homes with public amenities such as outdoor space and a dining room, conversations about sustainability and housing are expected to arise. A professional welder might walk down the block for his lunch break and share a table with a senior architect, or a couple could wander around the biorentention ponds and gardens teaching their young children about ecosystems and efficient use of resources. Events in the gallery or lecture space bring together distinct sectors of the community over common interests. The central corridor is designed as the connection, border, and overlap of user groups, providing a place for casual interaction on a regular basis. 

Programming and sustainable strategies work together to provide an environment fostering education and sustainable practices around the concept of home.


The edge of developed Bozeman is a nexus of old and new – country and town. In this zone between Interstate 90, the railroad tracks, and 7th Avenue, traditional hard-working values of Montana business owners meet a young and vibrant university town. Whalen Tire, Map Brewing, the Bozeman Bike Kitchen, and Midwest Welding and Machine coexist comfortably within a stone’s throw, while empty derelict lots and a bulk gasoline distribution plant don’t seem out of place. As North 7th avenue begins to change under expansion and development plans of the City of Bozeman, change in demographic and industry will likely accelerate.

Bozeman’s expansion as a global destination for the outdoors and an increasingly prestigious university town has put pressure on the housing market. Addressing how we understand home and how we might change development trajectories is now, more than ever, a critical issue for Bozeman and the surrounding Gallatin Valley.

This project ties together business, production, design, and sustainable planning. Covered bicycle parking and shower rooms accommodate those commuting on two wheels, while the location on a looped side street provides a viable bus stop location. Though its walk score is only 29/100, development trends suggest improvement with time. 


The existing site is a privately owned brownfield. A gravel parking lot covers most of the square footage, used by a local company to store trailers. A variety of makeshift dwellings, fire rings, and inhabited trailers exist, though no signs of life can be seen during waking hours. The surface condition is defined by a 16-foot grade change and three mature trees rooted near the southeast corner.

Development of the site will contribute to local water quality and decrease loads on sewers and storm drains by implementing an ecological water treatment system. Part of this system will exist at the ground surface, providing storm water retention ponds and doubling as constructed habitat for local birds and insects.

An important cultural aspect of the program is the kitchen and dining space where employees and the public can share conversation and food. Associated with these functions is a small agricultural plot. Food waste can be composted and returned to local soil, producing herbs and vegetables for the kitchen. Greywater drip irrigation will maintain healthy crops through dry summer months. The garden and wetlands become educational tools for healthier ecosystems.


A psychrometric chart for Bozeman describes a cold and dry climate, where heavy diurnal temperature swings mean levels of human comfort change constantly. The building takes this challenging characteristic as an opportunity. The primary massing move concentrates the building at the north edge of the site with a double skin south façade. During harsh winters this layered façade acts as a thermal blanket and heat generator, while in the summer it is shaded and night flushed using high-mass and prevailing southeastern winds. This “sun space” doubles as the finishing stage of water treatment for the on-site ecological system, in a place where building occupants can interact with its mechanisms. These growing tanks act also for evaporative cooling and humidification.

The project leverages natural grade change by sinking the building into the hill and implementing a ground-source heat pump. The pumps are tied into radiant slabs which provide efficient heating to the large interior volumes. A high-performance thermal envelope significantly reduces heating loads.


Tubular daylighting devices are implemented throughout the roof system to provide diffuse daylight to deep interiors. Large windows on the north wall increase daylight and provide exterior views from the fabrication floor. The south façade, as discussed under measure 04, is designed to optimize daylight and thermal properties. The central corridor has a raised roof plane which brings light down from above – the glazed roof is photovoltaic glass, diffusing light and generating electricity – while also creating a stack effect for ventilation, pulling air from both south-facing offices and northern fabrication space. Pods – the conference room, lounge, and employee lockers and showers – reach up to this atrium space, pulling down light and exhausting air for their own purposes. 


The site and building work as a system to process water used by occupants and collected from rainfall and storm runoff. The system is designed to manage about 400% of the 24-hr 2-year storm event for Bozeman, based on the most recent available data in 2016. Because southwest Montana is a relatively dry climate, sub-surface cisterns retain water for future use. These tanks also provide storage for the ecological treatment system, separating black, grey, and potable water. Greywater tanks feed a drip irrigation system which waters vegetable gardens. 

Primary water treatment processes are contained in two greenhouses to the south of the building, transparent and located in the public realm. Final micro-organismic and ultraviolet purification occurs within the south façade of the facility itself, providing humans direct contact with the plants and systems. This system provides occupants with a connection to green plants throughout the year, diffuses direct sunlight, and naturally conditions interior air. 


The massing and construction of the building are the first steps towards energy conservation. Prioritization of a tight envelope and efficient form minimizes both size of HVAC equipment and monthly energy cost. Next, a ground source heat pump, natural ventilation, night flushing, and passive solar heat gain strategies reduce grid loads even further. The kitchen was placed below the dining space, with a major mechanical plenum in between – waste heat from the kitchen is effectively recovered to further reduce heating loads in winter.

A photovoltaic array on the roof accounts for most of the remaining energy needs, leaving the building at a net Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of only 5 kBTU/sf/yr. 


Heavy timber construction was a sustainable, cost-effective, and aesthetic choice for the project. The large exposed wood members speak to Montana vernacular architecture in a non-traditional manner, and can be sourced in-state. Cross laminated timber was selected for the bearing walls and exterior shear bracing, having a far lower embodied energy than steel or concrete, and being compatible with the wood braced frame construction. The panels are produced by SmartLam of Columbia Falls, Montana. Using wood supports local manufacturers, pushes for technological development in engineered wood, naturally sequesters carbon, and provides options for dismantling and recycling the building at the end of its useful life.

Insulating the roof is a critical strategy for achieving an efficient envelope, and represents a large initial investment in the project. As thickness was not a limiting factor, rigid wood fiber board insulation was substituted for common polystyrene. These boards provide R-2.8 per inch and are made of compostable wood fibers.

Exterior finishes were chosen for durability, and differentiated based upon program. Standing-seam steel clads the more industrial north portion of the building, while two tones of terra cotta represent the smaller scale of the offices, entry, and kitchen/dining zones.


The tiny home manufacturing facility will come into being at a critical time for Bozeman’s development and expansion. The project aims to steer development in a more sustainable direction through production and education around tiny homes. It is understood, though, that tiny homes may not be the end-all solution for population growth; the open-plan fabrication floor and design offices can be easily reconfigured for future change. New, stackable modules could be implemented for higher density, or perhaps an entirely different program could take its place.

The ecological water treatment system is oversized in terms of its cisterns and greenhouse capacity. The site is adjacent to water mains, sewer lines, and storm drains, positioning the project to be easily connected into the greater Bozeman water treatment system. Water could be re-routed from sewers onto the site for treatment, increasing available water sources on site and decreasing loads on Bozeman’s municipal infrastructure. In this way, the building ties itself into the existing system.


Having design and construction under one roof allows for fast feedback in design development, and will help the facility stay up to date with current needs and trends in the housing market. This connection allows the company to better serve its clients in terms of speed, customization, and a personal connection to the process.

Post occupancy evaluations and energy monitoring are key to understanding building energy performance and predicting outcomes of future projects. Gathered data could be made publicly available through a website and app.

Customers spending the night in on-site homes, purchasing a home, or simply browsing the gallery, would be able to leave comments and rate their experience through an online social media platform. This would help with product development and customer satisfaction, while also starting the “tiny living” discussion on a public platform.

Finally, the City of Bozeman would monitor population growth and density, population happiness, and average home sizes in the Gallatin Valley to understand the impact of decreasing per capita living space and increasing efficiency.