He had an epiphany while living in a dumpster. And it could help change the future of housing.
He was living in a dumpster when the idea first came to him.
His name's Jeff Wilson — Dr. Jeff Wilson, actually. He's a professor at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, known fondly on campus as "Professor Dumpster."
Wilson made himself the guinea pig in a year-long experiment on sustainable living.
He traded a 3,000-square-foot home and most of his worldly possessions for a spartan 33-square-foot living space created in a big green dumpster.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Wilson said the experience made him happier than he's ever been. He was unburdened by the weights of adulthood, saving big on rent and utilities, doing less housework, cutting his commute down to near-nonexistence, and just having less stuff to clutter his space and mind.
Living in a dumpster may not be for everyone, but Wilson thinks smart home engineering can yield the same benefits.
Case in point: tiny houses. They're exactly what they sound like — homes of varying tininess, often pictured in bucolic ruralities.
Some are craftily adapted from materials not typically used with home building.
And some are designed to go with you when you want to move.
Tiny houses are gaining more attention as a viable housing alternative, which is great news for a few reasons.
They're an option — for the crafty and willing — withaffordable housing growing scarcer as cities sell out their locals for higher bidders. Then there are some, like Wilson, who just want to live simpler, less materially crowded and wasteful lives.
Wilson's verve for simple living became an entrepreneurial mission — to build a new generation of smart homes.
His company is called Kasita, but they're not building homes for country living. They're bringing the tiny house movement to the city — although, in a press statement, they say they don't call what they're building "tiny houses":
"The Kasita completely reimagines the home with industrial design at its core. There's nothing quite like it out there. The Kasita does not contain a loft, Murphy bed, pitched roof, or wheels. It's designed from the ground up as opposed to an adaptation of an existing structure intended to store and transport merchandise (but we have lots of love and respect for our friends in the Tiny House and container communities!)."
Their 208-square-foot design slides into multi-level structures called "racks," which connect to municipal utilities like electricity and plumbing.
The first rack is scheduled to open in Austin in 2016, and plans are underway to build them in 10 more cities by 2017.
With Kasita, you can move your entire home to any city with a rack. All you have to do is make a call, schedule a big-rig pickup, and off it'll go to your next destination.
Kasitas are equipped with all the amenities of a modern home, including a kitchen with a cooktop, convection oven, and dishwasher; a bathroom with a walk-in shower; and a combined washer and dryer unit.
The walls use a special tile system that lets you customize the space to your needs.
Plus, they'll have voice-activated components like lighting, entertainment, and a hidden queen-size bed that rolls out on your command, like a boss at bedtime.
To make Kasita an affordable housing opportunity, they're building community partnerships for creative land use.
They haven't yet announced pricing for buyers, but one of their stated goals is to offer rentals at half the market rate of standard studio apartments. In the country's most rapidly gentrifying cities, that could add up to serious savings.
Housing may be an internationally recognized human right, but not enough is being done to ensure everyone has access to it. Until then, it's encouraging to know there are businesses out there like Kasita that aren't just in the business of making things worse.
Kasita won't stop the housing crisis dead in its tracks. But if it proves successful, it could help inspire the kind of innovation we need to eventually send it flying off its rails.