Tag Archives: Reclaimed Space


montj prada

The idea of building a simple, rectangular home either from a flatpack or by customising shipping containers sounds alright. I’ve long been interested in pods, partly because of the start-from-scratchiness of it, partly because – done the right way – the completed house would not really be a house per se, but a temporary ‘moveable’ structure, and therefore something that could be perched on sites where other houses can not go.

Driving across the USA was in large part an excuse for meeting pioneers of the small house movement, and people who had for a broad spectrum of reasons decided to buck the trend and take it upon themselves to build the house they wanted, in the way they wanted, and where they wanted. Some of these to my mind looked like gingerbread houses with a suffocating surplus of trimming designed to slot in between normal houses on a normal street. But others were modern, modular, efficient spaces; platforms for a different way of living, and designed to be a more interactive part of the site on which they stood – whether just by orientation and views, or through a much more indoor-outdoor flow as well as a harnessing of what was locally available as in sun, rock and rain with solar panels, natural landscaping and rainwater collection. The houses were fresh and the people building them were as interested in the psychology of societies and impact of environment as in plumbing and wiring. Meeting people doing this stuff was exciting and inspiring. Among the people met, interviewed, featured and filmed in the USA roadtrip were Brad Kittel, exuberant founder of Tiny Texas Houses; Tracen Gardner and Eric Bricker at Reclaimed Space; Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed, and of course, the ever-curious, pivotal figure that is Lloyd Kahn of Shelter

Aside from the finished thing, another part of the appeal of a modular or flatpack construction was the potential to control the design, and to end up with something that suited your taste, lifestyle and budget. I have bought dozens of books (ranging from coffee table pod porn to practical handbooks for the conversion of shipping containers) and I’ve drawn up plans. The notion that I could feasibly create my dream house refuses to go away. However, by virtue of the fact it is quite literally my dream house, I probably won’t do it.

Anyway, that ever present just below the surface interest was piqued by the sight of a glass-sided module in the spectacular setting of Montejaque. Could we buy land and build our own modern home in a cost-effective way? Well, the short answer to that is no. At least, maybe in Ohio but no, not in this neck of the woods. But this thing which I think is an abandoned sales office for a construction project down the hill now on hold until the end of the ‘crisis’, while slightly on the small side, did look quite a bit better than several of the houses we’d so far traipsed around. It triggered a chain of wild thought which eventually concluded with a firm resolve not to travel too far from my own notion of somewheresville.

The abandoned container itself is reminiscent of Prada Marfa. If it was anywhere else people would drive for miles to see it, and read into a message about the topsy turvy world of economics or some such thing.



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Reclaimed Space, Austin

And so to Austin (in a tow truck). Not, as I expected, for SXSW and drinking tequila, discussing funding for some kind of self-indulgent, non-commercial film and music project destined to fail and put me off media for life, but to Reclaimed Space and another take on the small, mobile house. The company was started by Texas rancher, founder of the DIRTCO construction company and environmentalist by training and nature, Tracen Gardner.  He wanted to build a house on his ranch but couldn’t afford to take the time out of the city to be in the middle of nowhere during construction. So he hit upon the idea of building one in Austin that was small enough to be transported  to the chosen spot on the back of a truck when finished. The idea of portable housing was so good and zeitgeisty, he turned an inspired solution into a business in 2008.

The buildings are not just small and portable but built using a fair whack of reclaimed materials, as the name suggests, and designed with inherent alternative energy capabilities for sustainable living. I could order a house here off the freeway, and live in style and comfort off-grid on the mountain or beach – or ranch, of my choice. Or I could stick one on a small urban plot, or at the end of the garden for visiting guests, if I had a garden. Small and sustainable is a plus here, not a compromise. Sleekly designed, these are aspirational dwellings, aimed at people who have wised-up, rather than dropped out.

I visited Reclaimed Space and spoke to Eric Bricker, there in an interesting multimedia capacity, about the appeal of the buildings – and there’s an excerpt of that conversation in the video. More to come in due course, including a visit to a site build, and chat with Tracen. In the meantime, there’s plenty of information and pictures at reclaimedspace.com.

Incidentally, Eric made the multi-award-winning film Visual Acoustics,The Modernism of Julius Shulman, a celebration of the photographer and the photographs that created the image of 1950s -60s Californian cool. The late, great Shulman has to be the most influential architectural photographer of the 20th century, introducing the mainstream world to Lautner, Neutra, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pierre Koenig and R.M. Schindler and all, through photo books best described as building porn. Try reading Architecture and its Photography or Modernism Rediscovered without wanting to pack up and move to Southern California. I don’t know how I missed Eric’s film first time round, but I’m looking forward to being somewhere long enough to order a film and watching it.

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