Mount Holyoke senior invites public to view her 'tiny house on wheels'

Anne-Gerard Flynn | aflynn@repub.com By Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] The Republican
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on April 22, 2015 at 6:45 AM, updated April 22, 2015 at 9:17 PM

SOUTH HADLEY - Mount Holyoke College senior Sarah Hastings, one of five siblings who grew up in Braintree, is inviting you into her home this Friday and Saturday. Think small, and work in progress though. The open house invitation is for the 21-year-old's "tiny house on wheels" that Hastings designed for her senior thesis project as an architectural studies major. The 200-foot square house sits, behind the white garage, at the very back of the campus' Gorse parking lot on the right hand side of Morgan Street. It will be open for visitors on Friday, from 1 to 4 p.m., and Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hastings, who is looking for a permanent location for her home, calls the house "Rhizhome," a play on the word "rhizome," an underground plant stem. She was asked to explain what prompted the project, and her generation's interest in what has become known as the tiny, or small house, movement.

How much interest is there in your generation around the tiny house movement, and what interested you in doing your thesis on it?

The Tiny House Movement seems to interest people of all ages, but I've noticed that there is a particularly noticeable interest coming from recent college graduates, young couples, and retirees-to-be. I have always wanted to build my own home. I used to research land prices as a freshman, but it soon became obvious that I needed some more mobility in my 20s. I was serious about building my own tiny house as early as sophomore year and as I became more driven to construct, it turned into my intended thesis.

Would you take us through a mental walk through? What do you step into when we enter, and how does it flow from there? What is the square footage?

You cannot enter the house without noticing the gorgeous timber framed trusses above, which are made from 100-year-old reclaimed wood from a furniture factory in Gardner, and were crafted by Tom Musco, an expert timber framer and owner of Royalston Oak Custom Timber Frames. Step in through my retro sunburst door on the long side of the trailer and you will be facing a small kitchen. I have an antique Hoosier cabinet with a pull-out enamel top that is a great space-saving counter. To the right is the bathroom with a mini bathtub and a composting toilet. The bathroom doubles as a hallway to my gypsy bedroom! I have a set of storage steps that lead to my bed, which is perched on the gooseneck on my trailer. It's extremely airy and light in the bedroom with a huge window. Back to the left of the kitchen is a woodstove to heat the home in the winter and a cozy reading nook with a bench, bookshelves (not yet constructed), and beautiful antique window. Across from the Hoosier is a small carved elephant table and two other windows, which were all reused. In total, my house is just under 200 square feet. The interior is very light and airy.

What shaped your concept and design?

First, I knew I needed to incorporate some timber frame - I'm in love with traditional New England style, so some exposed beams were necessary. I shaped my design around my needs. I would never want to sleep in a crawlspace, so I designed my bedroom loft with much more vertical space than most tiny houses on wheels. I also wanted plenty of space to stretch and store books. From there, I worked with the constrains of my materials and my trailer. Windows and doors needed to be placed strategically, so many of my plans changed as I learned more about my wall structure. Some of my design elements were dependent on the fact that I really wanted all of my materials to be locally sourced or reused.

How do you access water, electricity, sewage? How about heat?

Water: I will have a hose input that connects to my Stiebel Eltron on-demand water heater. This supplies both the kitchen sink (doubles as a bathroom sink) and my shower/bath.

Electric: My house's electric is to residential code. I will have two solar panels, donated by Sunlight Solar Energy in Waltham. For now, I will plug my house up to an extension cord or to the grid, but the solar panels will supply most of my energy and can feed back to the grid if I have surplus. My house has a regular 100 amp service, which seems like a little much for such a small space - but it can attach up to a generator so I can get hook up to a variety of sources.

Sewage: I have designed a composting toilet which abides by the state regulations for composting toilets. As long as I use appropriate carbon material to cover my waste, it won't even smell! Eventually, after the composting process is complete and tested, my own waste will be rich, sanitary fertilizer.

Greywater: I use all biodegradable cleaning and bath products so that I can pipe my water out to a small graden that will filer out the suds.

Heat: A small woodstove

I was serious about building my own tiny house as early as sophomore year. - Sarah Hastings

What salvaged materials went into it? Where did you find them, what was the hardest to find? Why did you want to do salvage?

There's A LOT of reused material that went into my home. All of my windows, my door, my floor ... I reached out to EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield first. They were happy to be a sponsor. I also sourced much of my antique architectural salvage from another sponsor, New England Demolition & Salvage in New Bedford. Sometimes I would find random stuff in the woods or on the sidewalk by people's trash. I found a nice old medicine cabinet that way. I also did a TON of Craigslisting. It took me 60 hours over 6 months to find a suitable trailer on Craigslist.

I salvage for 3 main reasons: One, because houses and buildings are ALWAYS being gutted and there's plenty of valuable material that we can divert from landfills this way. Two, because each and every piece has a deep history and entertaining story to go along with it...salvage adds character. I am really into local and regional history.

It's been really hard finding a desk or the right dimensions. I'm looking to repurpose one into a mini kitchen counter for my sink and fridge.

When did you start and finish this project, and what did you learn from it?

I decided I wanted to build a tiny house in the summer of 2012. By the spring of 2013, it was looking like it would happen as my thesis. I bought my trailer in the winter of 2013-14 and began construction in the summer of 2014.

I have learned so much, not just about construction. I've learned valuable networking skills. I've learned that there is a lot of local knowledge that is there to be shared. I have learned how to balance a wide variety of tasks at once. It's been a lesson on resourcefulness, mostly.

How hard was it to add wheels, and how do you transport it?

The wheels were part of the foundation before the whole thing began. I built the house right to a trailer. The house is not removable from the wheels. I need to get a truck with a special hitch to move it and I will probably need to avoid a lot of tunnels and bridges.

Do you plan to permanently live in it? What would be a suitable local for it -- what are you hoping for?

I will live in it permanently when I graduate. I am searching for land right now, mostly in the Amherst/ Hadley/ NoHo area. Amherst's zoning laws seem most welcoming of alternative housing options like this, but regardless I will attain a special permit. I want to live on someone's extra land. Whether it be a part of a back or side yard or a piece of farmland is less important to me...although I'd LOVE to be close to animals and hiking trails! Access to the PVTA is also a must. I'll pay a small monthly rent, as well as do any kind of yard or housework in exchange for a spot.

How practical are these tiny homes? How do you see them as expanding housing options and for whom?

For some, they are ideal and provide a lot of freedom and opportunity. For others, it would cause a mental breakdown. For a certain subset of humans, tiny houses are the dream because they provide more financial freedom, which in turn frees up time. They also can align with environmental and spiritual values. I think that many people will find my tiny house surprisingly spacious and livable.

Tiny houses certainly have a growing market and it isn't just a fad. People of all ages dream of living small and as more people become concerned with the status of the environment and their own carbon footprint, tiny homes will continue to gain popularity. However, I don't think my home would be suitable for a family. There are people out there who raise kids in under 300 square feet, though. Coming from a family of 6, I know I wouldn't even think about being in that small of a space with preteens.

What are you planning to do career wise, and after college?

I plan to work, preferable with a part time job for an organization that values sustainable development. However, I have a wide variety of research interests and I'd love to continue working on interdisciplinary projects. Within the decade, I will definitely want to begin my doctorate in the History of Science or in something related to regional planning.... That is, unless I build my own business. The future is unknown, but I certainly will pave my own way. I might become a salvage consultant!
I will also hike the Appalachian Trail well within the next 5 years.

What course has most shaped your college experience?

Ah, I've had SO many deeply enriching courses at Mount Holyoke and at the other 4 colleges! (I've taken classes at all 5, as part of the Five College Consortium!)

In my first semester I took a geomorphology class with my advisor, Al Werner. I learned so much about Earth's processes...We waded through streams and got really dirty. I also had a really great experience in my Regenerative Design class for my first architecture class, where we designed a transfer station that went along with the landfill site in South Hadley. I've honestly loved all my courses (maybe minus one or two!).


    Stafford, CT

    3 Beds, 3 Baths

    More Info >

    Brenda Flower


    South Hadley, MA

    4 Beds, 3 Baths

    More Info >

    Marcia Petri




Great job..!! What a beautiful abode.. You can be very proud of that work.

Ignore the negative. You've done an outstanding job! Girl power!!


There is a book called The Big Tiny by Dee Williams who also built and lived in a tiny house on wheels. She parked her house in a friend's backyard, but used the homeowner's bathroom facilities.. So she was not completely independent in her tiny house. I think my biggest worry would be the stability of a tiny house during a major windstorm.


It looks like a homemade 5th wheel trailer.  If you do find a piece of land-you are still going to need to hook up to water and electricity, like a trailer park or campground. Most zoning laws prohibit mobile homes/trailers unless they're temporary and will only allow it for several months to 1 year.  I may have read the zoning laws wrong but I think you're going to have to go to a trailer park or get a piece of land and install water/electricity.

Beth and James

To Sarah Hastings and Jennifer Cavanagh.   I am old enough to be your mother, and I would be PROUD of you if I were.  Please do not let ignorant men (or petty women) destroy your dreams or your heart.  During your lifetime, you will certainly come across both.  Having been in the workforce for 30 years or so, I have seen it all.  You will come across men who are threatened by your intelligence or backstabbing women who are simply petty and jealous.  Women should stick together instead of trying to knock one another down.   Follow your dreams, and as you stated, it is YOUR life and YOURS only.  Stay true to yourself and you can park your tiny house in my backyard anytime.   It makes me a little less pessimistic about the future to see determined and thoughtful ladies like you two.  You made my day and best wishes and good luck.   YOU GO, GIRL!!!!


Sarah - It has been brought to my attention that my tone is threatening.  That was not my intent and if it was taken that way I apologize - my desire was for lively discussion on an interesting topic.  I find the Tiny House movement intriguing on a variety of levels.  It looks like you have done a great job building yours and in your thesis have explored many facets of the movement.  

Clearly, as evidenced by my posts below, I fundamentally disagree with much of the feminist narrative.  I mean no disrespect on a personal level and I hope you do not take it as such.


Sarah you are going to get a lot of insults, negative criticism, scorn and the like from some of our extremist crew in here.  They will attack your politics, your motives, your creativity, and more because they deem that as dangerous.  If you made a portable 200 sq foot gun shop showcasing Glocks, they'd all be on your side, but living quarters which are affordable, relatively green, and provide independence to some reeks of many of the things they fear.  Although they are an annoyance, try to understand - they are relatively harmeless with a bark much worse then any of them can bite. 

Me?  My hat's off to you.  You've done a good thing, may you continue to do so.  I'm sure you're aware of a similar 'movement' (for lack of a better phrase) on the west coast.  Some have met with limited success.  If you have any spare time, go to your library and dig up some early Mother Earth magazines (you may have to I.L.L. them), especially the first 20 or so issues.  Although dated, you will find them worthy of a read.  Luck to you!


Sarah, Sorry for all the negativity it appears to have grown out of misunderstanding. I too was  guilty of that .

For some, perhaps many, the ability to easily move into an area that accepts this would be a godsend.


Does she think she will be able to park this thing wherever she wants and get away with it? I can't park my 5th wheel RV wherever  I want, why should this tiny house be an exception? 

I think cities, towns, and municipalities need to begin to create laws regarding these tiny homes on wheels before we have liberal moon bat hippies squatting on every piece of land available. 

Sarah Hastings

@beelinemine Please do your research if you are interested in tiny house zoning laws.  If you had read this article you would have noted that tiny houses require a special permit.  You seem very interested in zoning laws. Here: all towns have their zoning codes online for public access. http://www.amherstma.gov/476/Zoning-Bylaw.  So if a smelly hippie comes to your door asking if you would be interested in exchanging a plot of plan for a monthly rent, you can certainly decline.  If you have any other questions, please call your local zoning board.  


I do not understand this tiny house movement. We are about to move into a house in Vermont that is 4500sf and sits on 40 acres, and is 1/2 a mile from the road. We designed it to be self sustaining, with a full sun tracking solar array that provides 100% of all the power the house needs. We have worked for over 10 years to save enough to build this house and there is no mortgage, we paid our dues living in terrible Springfield in a run down house to save for this dream home. We have zero credit card debt and both work from home online for Google.

Are the kids today planning for their future at all? What happens when life begins and the tiny house can't fit their family anymore? Has this generation given up on the American dream and are settling for homes like this? 

Can someone explain this movement?

Sarah Hastings

@beelinemine Wow, well that sounds like a lovely set up and congrats.  And good for you for working hard.  It sounds to me you really want an outlet to share your story, so maybe you can blog about it or something.   A massive home is not for everyone and spending 10 years to accommodate an "American Dream" isn't always appealing to people who want to do other things with their time.  I bet your lifestyle will be beautiful in your new home, but why can't we be accepting of each other's thoughtful choices?

Right now I am trying not to to be incredibly offended by your comment because I know it comes from a misunderstanding, perhaps ignorance.  This house is ALL ABOUT planning my future.  I noticed that a tiny house would allow a wide degree of flexibility while I try to orchestrate my life's work.  I am saddened that you see my project and think I am throwing my future away to bum around alone.  QUITE THE CONTRARY.  I am out to get my PhD and to invest in things that I care about.  Please do not make absurd assumptions about us "kids" when you haven't even given the effort to look into the tiny house movement.  You see the search bar on your internet browser?  Type in "Tiny House Movement" and you can educate yourself.  If you feel like you have the power to belittle other people's mode of life, perhaps you should step out from your 40 acres and notice that there are a variety of ways to thrive. 

This comment has been deleted

Beth and James

@Sarah Hastings @beelinemine I think beeline appears to be one of those people whose definition of success is to think they are "better than the Jones's".  Let her live in her monstrosity and eyesore of a house in VT where she can live and die, feeling very smug and self-satisfied.   You are young and out to change the world.  YOU GO GIRL!!!    You already ARE more successful than this lady !!!!!


@beelinemine When this theoretical family outgrows, it she can move into a bigger place.   I lived in a wonderful studio apartment, the moved into a bigger place closer to town when my family expanded.


@beelinemine You do realize that she could be doing the very same thing you did, right? You lived in "terrible Springfield", she's going to live in a tiny home. As long as she's not breaking any laws, what do you care?


I plan to work, preferable with a part time job for an organization that values sustainable development.

Neat...and this house may just work with part-time employment wages.

Would also be a good alternative for homeless shelters.

Cute little houses dotting the rolling hills around Amherst and Northampton....wood smoke wafting out of hundreds of chimneys.....

Like a Hobbit Shire.....


If the issue is sustainable development, walking communities, modest housing for modest needs, etc. the real issue at hand is not how to build a tiny house.  We have had manufactured homes/trailers/mobile homes for nearly 100 years.  Why don't tight knit communities of tiny house/trailers exist that aren't cesspools?  It isn't because this is the 1st time somebody thought to make a miniature house.

1.) Zoning - we simply don't allow it

2.) Human psychology - most people will allow their spending to fill the available supply of money and will(eventually) want more.  Young college students often think they are different or their friends are different.  Mark my words.  Look at yourself in the mirror 15 years from now and you will be shocked at what you have become.  It is extremely unlikely that you are different.

3.) Political - People buy expensive homes in part to separate themselves from those who cannot afford expensive homes.  They will protect their investment through the ballot box.

This isn't to say I don't understand or see the plight of the poor.  I do.  It doesn't mean I am willing to jeopardize my family to address a small part of the problem.  The majority of the problem is a largely unfixable feedback loop where people who make poor choices have kids they didn't want and can't afford, pass on a myriad of poor traits, treat them badly.....Then those kids repeat the cycle in a compressed generational schedule.


What is the difference between a "tiny house", a camper, and a trailer?  Isn't a trailer-park the most appropriate place to bring it?

Sarah Hastings

@LazerBlack Essentially, they are all on the same scale and can provide the same lifestyle.  However, "tiny houses" in the current trend are made with more house-like materials (wood) so that they feel more like a home and less like a streamlined item.  This helps integrate homier furnishing and movable options. 

As for the trailer park argument, it can be an appropriate place if that's a convenient locale for the resident.  But many people who want to live in a tiny house do not want that to be the only option because we believe that there is plenty of unused land where a tiny house can be safely maintained and lived in.  Part of achieving a sustainable town is creating more residences that are within walking distance of other amenities.  Unfortunately, trailer parks are often marginalized and require a bit of driving to get anywhere.  If I can park on a small plot of land local to the colleges, shops, and to the bus, I would be using resources in a much wiser way.  I want to be a part of a dynamic community. 


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack if a "tiny house" owner does not want to live in a trailer park (for whatever reason) and the tiny house can be maintained in a place like downtown Northampton...Couldn't the same argument be made about trailers?  Should traditional mobile homes be relegated to trailer parks?

It seems to me that a "tiny house" = "deluxe trailer".  It looks nicer, is made with nicer materials, etc.  It also has a different clientele.

I feel like if the rally cry is social justice, sustainable development, etc. then the tiny house movement and the right to drop a mobile home or camper anywhere should merge.  I feel like tiny house people don't want to be associated with trailers and consider them separate because they are fully participatory to the stigma.

From a sustainability standpoint - are "tiny houses" more sustainable than trailers, mobile homes, manufactured homes, or whatever they are called today?  My off the cuff guess (I have never looked into it) is that Tiny houses are nicer....But a metal manufactured home is probably more sustainable.

Sarah Hastings

@LazerBlack @Sarah Hastings Ok I hear what you are getting at.  Could there be a problem where tiny housers are feeding into the stigma against other trailer homes?  This could be happening, no matter how inadvertent it is.   

Many neighborhoods do not allow certain housing types based on aesthetics.  This is true in historic neighborhoods, as it is in those McMansion communities.  But we see RVs in peoples driveways everyday and we dont cry about that.  So should "deluxe trailers" be able to park wherever a tiny house can?  That is a debate I won't lay out yet.   

Tiny houses are made with love.  Prefabs feel more anonymous,  In our individualistic society (eh yes, which poses its own set of problems), the tiny house model becomes a dreamy DIY project.  The thought of designing one's own cute home- THAT is often the hook here.    


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack Many McMansion communities ban RV's for aesthetic reasons.

I don't deny that "Tiny Houses" are nicer, more personal, and more desirable than trailers.  I am merely asserting that a tiny house IS a deluxe mobile home and there is no justification for zoning treating it any differently.


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack There was a HGTV show about tiny houses.  Many people situated their tiny homes on the properties of friends and relatives.   Or one could  buy their own lot.   A coworker of mine got fed up with the trailer park management, bought her own lot and moved her trailer there.


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack Did you take an economics class?  Economics is the study of scarcity...

How many people want to live on a small plot of land near local colleges, shops, and the bus?  How much land is available in these areas?  It seems to me that the whole supply/demand equation falls apart if you are looking for low cost living.  Low cost living will be in undesirable places because people with money are willing to pay to live in the desirable places.

If it was inexpensive to live in desirable places - why exactly would anybody choose to live in the undesirable?

Sarah Hastings

@LazerBlack @Sarah Hastings There are hundreds of acres of land right outside of UMass and Cornell, where there are commendable bus systems.  Please, if you want to question my logic, please feel free to publish your own article on the matter.  I think these conversations are wonderfully stimulating but I must retreat now because I have a thesis to finish. Thanks! 


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack Who owns that land you want to take advantage of? Do you intend to ask to use it, and pay a fair price to use it? Or will you just show how much of a millennial you are and just assume it is there for you to use and abuse?


It requires much more thought, effort, and time to publish my own article. I find tearing other people down to be a much more expedient way of projecting my thoughts and exploring issues.

Hundreds of acres are owned by somebody and there are thousands if not 10's thousands of people who want to live or otherwise utilize that land. The supply and demand curve prevent evened that wants to live in an awesome place inexpensively from doing so.

Nobody wants to live in a crummy trailer park far from everything. They live there because they have to.

Not a Masshole

Fabulous job! This is a far bigger project than most college students would be willing and able to take on. She planned it, organized it, managed it, and overcame all the challenges she encountered along the way. And she presumably did this while fulfilling her other college requirements. She is well-prepared for accomplishing her goals in the coming years. I wish her success in all her endeavors, and the wisdom to tune out and rise above all the ignorant naysayers who are threatened by such an accomplished young lady.


@Not a Masshole I think she did a great job and went beyond what many other students probably accomplish. I have seen some other small/tiny homes online. I think it is a great idea. Myself..I need more space. My storage unit alone is filled up and it is a 5/10. I have children though and we like a nice size christmas tree. I think if my children were grown and out of the house, then this would be a great, more economical solution. Although...my grandkids may not be able to visit for long periods of time. 

Jennifer Cavanaugh

Conversation about small square footage as a choice should not happen without acknowledging the millions of folks who live in/raise families in mobile homes/other small spaces because they don't have the economic agency to do otherwise.

I hope in your pursuit of sustainable development that you pursue a deeper engagement with the class and race biases that are intrinsic to the history of U.S. housing.

Jennifer Cavanaugh

It is confusing to note the stigma against the aesthetic of low-income housing AND the praise of a very similarly designed product/building footprint that emerged from a liberal arts setting. 


@Jennifer Cavanaugh I agree this is confusing and is somewhat hypocritical.  I think the core is social class stratification.  People say they don't like the aesthetic of low-income housing but what is closer to the truth is that they praise living in small spaces by choice but do not want to live next to people forced to live in small spaces (poor people).  If you accept the premise that the core issue is that most people don't want to live near "trailer trash" then the acceptance of Tiny Houses makes perfect sense.

Anne-Gerard Flynn | aflynn@repub.com

Sometimes articles do take a wider view but this was meant to highlight a senior project open to the public...Affordable decent housing is essential for young and old and those in between. Giving developers incentives to build it is indeed a big issue today.

Jennifer Cavanaugh

@Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] I hear you, but considering the depth of the q&a i am disappointed to note a pattern in press highlighting local thesis projects that don't stir the root of systemic issues as a central aim esp. when their origin is contested yet more often overlooked. From a certain perspective, we don't have a serious need for new construction in America, particularly housing. Thousands upon thousands of intact buildings sit vacant, or as Sarah has noted, can be salvaged for structural or aesthetic parts. 

Especially because i am a fellow design/construction five college undergraduate/graduate student I feel compelled to again and again demand from my peers real notions of community engagement and sustainability. These central tenants of project design must go beyond material sourcing, homeowner skills and efficient mechanical systems though those are challenging places to start in their own right. 


@Jennifer Cavanaugh @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] There are real systemic issues however a large plurality of American simply do not want to address them in any meaningful way.

Our economy is demand driven.  Our politics are vote driven.  There is demand for giant SUV's, government subsidized home loans, and the unsustainable American dream.  I am willing to bet within 15 years the vast majority of your fellow students who are eager to address systemic issues in our society will resemble the ordinary college educated adult today....2 kids, a dog, a house with a garage, a lawn to mow, mortgage payments, car payments, vet bills, credit card debt, lingering student loans, etc, etc, etc.....And you will ask yourself, "what happened to me?"

Jennifer Cavanaugh

@LazerBlack @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] Well I can't really speak for anyone but myself but as a single 23 y/o grad student with upwards of 50k in debt I can assure you I can probably only afford to rent for the indefinite future, am very much remaining idealistic and trying to stay positive. Young Americans don't have much choice in our enrollment in the system as it is very hard to understand what is happening until 16 years into cogent life (at least!). But we can certainly try our best to navigate away from pressure to consume, enjoying our rights while working to dismantle how our privilege relies on excluding and devaluing a mass of the population. 

We can't force people to acknowledge systemic issues but I certainly won't stop demanding they do.


@Jennifer Cavanaugh @LazerBlack @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] I am not knocking your ideas.  I am just saying you are in the "idealism" phase of life.  Mark my words - you will be shocked when you look into a mirror 10 years from now at what you have become.

Our colleges today are filled with idealistic people - I am sure you are friends with many of them.  I can tell you from experience 15 years ago the colleges were full of idealistic people then.  I can tell you what happened to all those idealistic people....Standard American consumers.  

Sarah Hastings

@Jennifer Cavanaugh @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] I assure you that these issues are not being ignored in my papers or in the classrooms at Mount Holyoke.  Maybe soon there can be an article on that, as you hope!  Although much of my attention is focused purely on the design-build process, my final chapter asks if tiny houses are as sustainable as they are hyped  up to be.  ((Aren't apartment complexes where wall and resources are shared a more economical model, I once wondered.))  This interview was not about the deeply rooted issues in society, but more about how a house can be made and hopefully integrated through a route that is not typically taken.  How about you and I make a pact to try and fling some more deep questions out of the classrooms and into the local media for the rest of the community?! ;)


@Sarah Hastings @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] Are apartment complexes more sustainable?  It seems to me that concrete construction with wall-to-wall shared resources is better.  Only having 1-3 outside walls to lose heat through instead of 6....

I know places like Ukraine have large concrete apartment complexes....They don't have a bunch of single family homes built on trailer frames.

Sarah Hastings

@LazerBlack @Sarah Hastings @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] Right on..... I was just posing a past question I had explored.  Old apartments seem like a monster to operate. There are definitely more innovative models in apartments, though.  I do have faith in design. 

The nice thing about a tiny house is the option to go from your door to the garden. Someday more apartments will have that option, as long as my lovely friends are hired as head architect. 


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Anne-Gerard Flynn | [email protected] I am trying to separate "desirable" from "sustainable".

I understand the desirability of having your own space, own garden, etc.  I simply don't believe that 100 tiny houses in a park/community is as sustainable as 1 giant concrete structure with 1 big garden and roped off plots.


@LazerBlack It appears then you favor the communist approach rather than the independent approach.  If you want independence you must give a little.  Most Americans are willing to do that.


@LazerBlack We are in America, not Ukraine.  Those complexes you write of of are leftovers from the days of Stalin and are extremely undesirable, both cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  There are huge problems with Stalinist style structures.

Sarah Hastings

@Jennifer Cavanaugh I agree that this is an issue that has not been addressed enough, if at all, in the conversation about mobile houses and mobile homes.  One of the real issues is that mobile home parks are often marginalized and stereotyped as dirty and dangerous. And on the other side of that coin, people who are choosing the tiny house model are often stereotyped as the white, otherwise well-off Wholefoods type, even though they are pushing for tiny house communities that are exactly the same as a mobile home park but with a different connotation.  

If we can just close he gap and integrate housing types into closer knit communities, there would be a lot more support and dignity for all kinds of modest residences.  

Jennifer Cavanaugh

@Sarah Hastings @Jennifer Cavanaugh Your stereotypes ring true and I myself would be very self-conscious if I was in your shoes about falling into the latter category. It is a remarkable and increasingly rare thing to be a young person with so much economic agency. As entrancing and safe as the american dream of homeowner ship is, I think it's crucial to be able to see yourself and your project as part of a larger movement. The experience of re-skilling oneself to create and repair safe shelters has utility in every city in the world. It is certainly brave to undertake this by yourself, but it is also an incredibly rare and unrealistic project to repeat based off of the amount of money required to realise it as well as skills etc. 

I wish you had touched on your experience project managing from your perspective as a woman in this interview. No doubt you have experienced discrimination and this too I think is an important conversation to be having in a public, news setting. 

Best of luck Sarah! Congrats on your first structure!

Sarah Hastings

@Jennifer Cavanaugh @Sarah Hastings I certainly wish I had mustered up my woman-power and critical questioning that late night when I filled out this interview!!!!!!!! Haha, thanks a lot.  My work is only beginning though.  This is just the foundation for more inquiry. 

This comment has been deleted

Sarah Hastings

@LazerBlack @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Sarah Hastings I am a lucky girl who goes to a supportive all-women's college.  My father has supported my desire to learn how to build, as has many local male carpenters. I see where Jennifer is coming from because step out of this girl-powered bubble and into ANY woodshop....now count the number of female.  That is the kind of skewed ratio that discourages women from doing this kind of thing.  That's gonna change. 


@Sarah Hastings @LazerBlack @Jennifer Cavanaugh I support your desire to learn to build and pursue any hobby or career path you choose.  I do however disagree that the number of women in a wood shop is likely to change substantially, and the majority of a very skewed gender ratio is not the result of discouragement.  

Jennifer Cavanaugh

@LazerBlack @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Sarah Hastings

"construction crews on average are 97 percent male — the same as they were 30 years ago"


a) the world is grossly sexist and violent towards women. There are certainly exceptions but for me and many women this is a baseline fact.

b) the fields of construction and architecture are male dominated, statistically and otherwise when you consider unequal pay. it is totally appropriate for me to ask a fellow woman about her experience working in that context. My general theme for all of my comments here rings true again: No. one. talks. about. this. enough. 

c) Like Sarah I am also in my early 20s and have been training as a carpenter and fabricator for over three years. It is very different trying to pursue these types of projects outside of the safe space of working with family, mentors, likeminded friends. I have been objectfied, belittled and devalued by men trying to do my job in metal, wood shops and on construction crews, so I also speak from a place of concern. Those experiences have been incredibly scarring and have ultimately made it hard for me to pursue an aspect of both my professional and creative endeavors. We need more male allies not men that doubt women and make us justify our experiences in order to win our support.

Sarah Hastings

@Jennifer Cavanaugh @LazerBlack @Sarah Hastings "No man [edit: NOBODY] has the right to dictate what other men [edit: OTHERS] should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” Ansel Adams.  

I applaud you, Jennifer, for sticking to it despite despicable treatment in a male-dominated arena.  Sure, the sex ratio out on the construction site isnt really due to even out... but you are inspiring other women to enroll in shop class based off of their own interest.  Wishing you luck.


@Jennifer Cavanaugh @LazerBlack @Sarah Hastings

The anonymity of these online forums is great because issues can be explored and discussed without threat of being labeled a "sexist pig", "racist", etc. and being thought of as a pariah.  This attitude of victimization and the notion that anybody that does not agree is complicit in the victimization of others serves to silence discussion on these issues.

a) Women are often victims of violent crime but I do not believe that it is due to a systemic societal bias against women.  A baseline fact is that women and men are different.  Men are more likely to be violent to anybody - they are worse to other men compared to women, but women do often receive the violence.  When men beat on each other they don't usually hurt each other as badly and they are less likely to seek treatment but I would say that men are more likely to be victims of violence.

I know you and many women believe that the world is grossly sexist and biased against women.  I know you believe this is a baseline fact.  I have met many that believe the same.  When you drill down to the specific complaint(s) there are usually better explanations however feminists often don't want to see them.  I believe this concept of continuous victimization is a pathology.

b) You are correct that construction and architecture are male dominated.  Men on average earn more money than women, true.  I believe there are much better explanations than victimization.  Men and women are different (on average) in many ways which can ultimately express itself in choice of career, success in a chosen career, etc.  I am not saying that a woman is never discriminated against, and I know of many cases where women are discriminated FOR.  In fields dominated by 1 gender the minority gender is often heavily recruited in an attempt to balance the scales.  Hospitals trip over themselves to hire male nurses and engineering firms trip over themselves to hire female engineers for example.  Claiming victim is akin to not wanting to know or understand the real reasons.  I do agree with you though, No one talks about this enough.  I wish there was more discussion so the whole "77 cents on every dollar" myth could be put to bed once and for all.  The world is much more complicated than "men hold women down".  

c) I understand there can be significant challenges being the only woman in a wood shop.  I can imagine the objectification, belittlement, etc.  It is tough to be a minority.  I can tell you from personal experience as a man trying to be fair to women in a male dominated environment it is actually difficult and awkward.  Is it condescending to offer more support than I would another guy?  Is too much attention objectification?  Is too little attention/support and letting you flounder devaluing you?  I'm not saying all those men were trying, but understand it is awkward for the ones that are trying.  

The thing that rubs me the wrong way is less the concern, and more how it is phrased.  You don't ask "how were you treated/accepted" but instead start with "as a woman.......I am sure you have experienced discrimination".  The assumption of victimization bothers me.  The assumption that anything bad or less than ideal must fit into a greater anti-woman narrative bothers me.

Let's start assuming the best in people.  Let's start looking past the rhetoric and assume there might be logical reasons for perceived injustices.

Jennifer Cavanaugh

@LazerBlack @Jennifer Cavanaugh @Sarah Hastings if I didn't have so many close female friends who were victims of sexual assault and disrespect I might be inclined to phrase the question more open ended. But frankly, there isn't a female architect, builder or designer I have met that doesn't have a handful of stories about how and when they were discriminated against.

I certainly want to work with male coworkers and the victims of slight to change that dynamic. Dialogue between two women is not where we will make this progress. It is where we relate to and support one another. I do not share my personal experiences to be accused of playing the victim and ask that you try a little harder next time to not discredit someone with the v word. There is a vast literature and cultural tendency to "blame the victim" and it is very hurtful and counterproductive. 

I appreciate your remarks on it being awkward and difficult to work with women in a male dominated environment. I hope you can see this experience as a product of the systemic bias I speak of. If bias didn't exist gender wouldn't be such a stumbling block in these cases. I too posit that there is certainly logic behind discrimination, I believe inherent bias was subtly learned over time in a culture that is safest for white men above all. (very well outlined in act two of this radio programme http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/548/cops-see-it-differently-part-two) And in the case of predominately white male work crews, a culture of racism and sexism thrives because it is kept perfectly safe. 


@Jennifer Cavanaugh @LazerBlack @Sarah Hastings You don't like the use of the "v-word" and seem to think it is inappropriate for me to accuse you of being/playing/thinking you are the victim.....Yet you then say "if I didn't have so many close friends who were victims...."  It sounds like you view an entire class of people as victims (women) through anecdotal evidence - yet it is inappropriate for me to bring up the fact you clearly view yourself as a victim.  It is illogical to say, "I know I'm a victim - but how dare you accuse me of viewing myself as a victim!"

How would it sound if I said, “I have an open mind, but if it wasn’t for the fact that so many black people I know are derelicts I wouldn’t be so reluctant to hire black people”.  Sounds pretty racist, doesn’t it?

Do you see yourself as prejudiced?  You make assumptions and broad generalities about groups of people whom you do not know, but on anecdotes from close friends and person experiences of injustices (real or perceived) are used to extend to strangers.  Your worldview of womens' issues extends assumptions both about men and women.  It sounds like you are pre-judging and it is the very definition of prejudice.  I believe we are all prejudiced to some degree about a variety of issues.  I acknowledge this and wear my biases and prejudice as a badge of honor - do you recognize yours?

I do not blame the victim for actual injustices.  I will say that over simplifying the world to a giant version of "women are held down" silences meaningful discussion on the "why" a perceived injustice exists and whether it is real or not.  I know many Smith grads personally and even a college professor (not at Smith) who attributes anything less than ideal that happens to them or other women as a massive societal bias against women.  In many cases after hearing the details it is crystal clear what happened, and their gender had nothing to do with....However suggesting, even for a moment, that sexism was not the root cause would make me viewed as the instant enemy, sexist pig, and enter into a conversation guaranteed to end in hurt feelings and them not wanting to associate with me anymore.  Attitudes like that stifle real discussion and limit your discussions to either sounding boards within bubbles, or shouting matches.  Net result – I hear them out for my own entertainment and they continue on thinking their pretzel (il)logic is reality.

As for the awkwardness of working with women in a male dominated environment....  I have heard (no personal experience) that men working in a female dominated environment (Elementary schools, nurses, etc) are no picnic either.  This is not due to bias.  Men are different from women.  Most people are heterosexual which adds a lot to the whole dynamic.  Men react to situations differently than women.  You may wish men and women were to same - but they are not (on average).  There are always exceptions of course, but it is safe to say that men are women are different.  Too much help could be seen as an unwanted sexual advance, too little help could be seen as marginalizing a woman who wants to learn.  Men are usually less sensitive than women - I feel comfortable telling a guy that he is being an idiot if he is using a machine wrong but women are more likely to take that personally.  I have seen women over the years ask to be treated the same as men and then end up in tears when they are legitimately treated the same.  Does this mean that everybody should change to accommodate the women?  We go through life every day treating men and women differently - when somebody pops up in a place you aren't expecting them it is awkward because you aren’t sure how to react or how they will react to you.

Personally I thoroughly enjoy talking about all of these issues because I like thought experiments.  Unfortunately though it can only be done anonymously because there are very few people I trust to actually debate sensitive issues without deciding that I am the embodiment of evil.

Are women discriminated against in certain circumstances– yes.  Are men discriminated against in certain circumstances – yes.  Is this the reason for most things that don’t go your way – NO.  Are there often more logical reasons for things  - YES.  When I say logic I do not mean “there is logic behind discrimination”.  What I mean is that things like male/female dominated fields, pay gaps, etc often have a logical reason that does not involve systemic discrimination.

Jennifer Cavanaugh

@LazerBlack as great as the anonymity is know that your tone comes off as very threatening and I have to disengage from dedicating time to this conversation.

I agree to disagree on all the points you have responded to.

Thanks for sharing opinions I am glad to have gotten some outside perspective on how I present my life experience. 


I was unaware that my tone comes off as "threatening" and I will re-read my posts to try and understand better why. Please know that coming off as threatening was in no way my intent, and my intent was simply to debate sensitive topics in a "safe" environment and make my points.

I hope in the future we are both, despite our obvious differences, able to debate, discuss, and explore sensitive topics.

I agree with you that these topics are not talked about enough, which leads to poor understanding. I respectfully disagree with 'why' and agree to disagree.


@Jennifer Cavanaugh "Class and race biases"?  How about "economic biases"?

We live in a capitalist economy.  In 2015 money decides where you can live - there is no racial or class bias.  To suggest that lower income people should be able to move to where higher income people are gobbling up all the real estate is to blow our entire capitalist economy up.  Economics is the study of scarcity.  Desirable places to live are scarce, driving the price up...Ergo, lower income people can't live there.

Show More Comments