OSU Students Design and Build Tiny Homes for Needy Youth


Students enrolled in OSU-OKC’s Construction Management and Architecture program have been involved for the past few years in the “Matchbox 17” project to build tiny houses on the Pivot Inc. campus in Oklahoma City for d other young people in need. (Photo provided by Terry Clinefelter)

Oklahoma State University students built homes for needy youth while building their future.

The students, who are considering careers in architecture or construction, took part in a program called “Matchbox 17” first dreamed up a few years ago by Paolo Sanza, an associate professor at the School of Architecture at the ‘OSU, and Terry Clinefelter, who heads the building technologies department at OSU-OKC. It involves designing and building tiny homes for homeless or “aging” young adults in the state’s foster care system without good housing prospects.

Houses have been built on the Pivot Inc. campus in Oklahoma City. Over the past five years, the nonprofit organization has opened 26 homes for teens and other young adults in need.

“When I teach, I like to give students a real project to complete,” Sanza said. “I thought it was a good starting point and, at the same time, a way to contribute to the community and get involved in raising awareness.”

Sanza said the project is perfect for third-year architecture students. Fourteen people who met with Pivot in January 2020 were challenged to design small homes that were affordable, but also very livable. The requirements were that they not exceed 280 square feet and that they be built using light frame construction techniques. In addition to unique indoor living spaces, students were encouraged to think about things like porches and how to incorporate outdoor living into their designs. They were instructed to limit budgets to $140 per square foot – or about $40,000 per unit.

Students Katelyn Mann and Tiffany Mollohan said they wanted to do more than just meet the basic requirements. Instead, they decided to build custom homes for each resident while creating as much usable space as possible.

“Our structure was a classic house-style shape, but it was broken up and split into two levels,” Mann said. “Since many homes have a very open floor plan, we started putting in wooden slat dividers to separate the bed from the kitchen and living areas to maintain privacy. Then we focused a lot on things that were retractable, so having furniture that could fold into the walls, or having a double space between the closet and the bathroom. This way you have more compact areas.

Colton Hinojosa, another OSU student who participated in the “Matchbox 17” project, described it as humbling and an incredible opportunity to contribute to the community.

“When you attend architecture classes, it’s a way of learning, but until you’re actually in the field and building something, that’s for me that you acquire a lot of of your knowledge and learning,” he said.

Clinefelter said he believed students would remember for a long time and be influenced by their experience.

“It was just a very organic process of getting involved in something that I know my students, and myself personally, will always remember as one of the highlights,” he said.


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