Re-inventing the Wheel: Our Tiny House Design Experiences.

By Dorus

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as the saying goes and David Holmgren, one of the founding fathers of permaculture, uses these words to remind us that the way we look, affects what we see. Or to cite another permaculture classic, to think along the lines of “the problem is the solution” .

Both of these proverbs are commonly used to buttress the first permaculture principal of careful observation and thoughtful interaction. The Green Gorillas are strongly aligned with the ethics and principals of permaculture and in this blog I tell you about the evolution of our tiny house design and how it came about.

It is around 8 years ago that I observed that the gateway to a simple, free, light and sustainable life was very hard to find. This was made painfully obvious by our own inability to “eco-fy” our lives despite having a lot of free time. Our urban, small rented apartment situation restricted us as it is bound to restrict so many of us keen to enter into this way of living.

Not being able to install solar panels, a composting toilet, a rocket stove or a veggie garden, apart from a worm farm and a growing box on the balcony, our ability to interact with these things was severely inhibited.

Tiny show home

This is why when I saw an opportunity to build a tiny show home at Casita Verde, Ecological Centre on Ibiza, I jumped at the chance. Whilst exploring the legalities and practicalities of tiny transportable homes on Ibiza (which in reality are mostly yurts and caravans) I observed that a lot depended on the opinion of the neighbours. I decided to attempt to soften the impact on the neighbour's view and the landscape by making the show home look like something that would be at home in the countryside, possibly even add to it. This led to a design in the form of an antique covered wagon. The response from the neighbours and visitors of the centre was entirely positive even before the project was finished.

Dorus with his dad, who lives in New Zealand. May 2016, Ibiza.

The wagon is a completely self-sustained unit inspired by the Earthship philosophy of Michael Reynolds (who I had the pleasure of working with in Malawi). It catches its own rainwater and stores it in two 5m2 flexible tanks that drop down out of the base frame. It generates its own electricity for lighting, cooking and even car charging. It uses the sun to heat the shower and dish-water, backed up by a super efficient rocket stove which heats the very well insulated (and ventilated) small space during cold winter days as well as serving as a hot plate and oven. The “waste” is handled via a composting toilet and the compost and grey water are recycled to the garden.

AJ, Dorus's nephew, who came all the way from New Zealand to help with the build. Ibiza, 2017

Ibiza, 2019

Having had this opportunity to investigate, but more importantly to get my hands on these sustainable technologies, we then took the opportunity to live in the wagon for 9 months and really observe and interact with it all across the seasons and through everyday life.

Actually this principal goes hand in hand with the principal of self regulation and acceptance of feedback. Because at every step we used the feedback from our interactions to inform our next step. In this way we observed that the intricate complications of the wooden wheels and round shapes made the wagon design inaccessible to those without considerable carpentry experience.

Build your own tiny pallet house

This led to us designing a much simpler and more accessible design which we teach people with no prior tool experience to build for themselves from euro pallets in our two week tiny house builds on Mallorca, Spain and in the Dordogne, France.

The wooden wagon wheels given way to road legal trailers and we are currently researching a hook-lift container base option to make these transportable tiny houses a realistic, economical and ecological option for the maximum amount of people.

June 2021, Mallorca

As we go forward we will continue to “observe carefully and interact thoughtfully” and use the other eleven permaculture principals guide us on our path to take care of ourselves whilst also taking care of the planet.

And of course we'll continue to share the fruits of our observations and interactions with you via our youtube channel and courses.


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