Tiny Homes, Big Impact 10

The 2016 Outward Bound Micro Cabins, built by students of CU’s Colorado Building Workshop, benefit Colorado Outward Bound Schools’ faculty and their vision of 
outdoor education and sustainability.

In 2016, the University of Colorado Denver’s Colorado Building Workshop (CBW) continued its partnership with the Colorado Outward Bound School; a not-for-profit organization focused on outdoor education. After designing and building 14 insulated year-round micro cabins for students of COBS the year before, this year’s goal was to create a village of seven cabins for its senior staff.

Assistant Professor and Director of CBW Erik Sommerfeld said that the project was a great opportunity for the students to be involved in a not-for-profit that’s also involved with giving back.

“One of the main things that we try to impart on the students is the importance of the relationship with the client in architecture and how listening to your client and working collaboratively with them throughout the process makes for a much richer experience,” says Sommerfeld.

What makes these micro cabins unique is that each is site-specific and no two cabins are alike.

“They’re driven by the natural features of the landscape,” Sommerfeld explained. “Some of them, you walk through the trees to get to the entry, others have holes in the roof to look up at the sky because that was the most private way for that cabin to sit in the landscape, given that the circulation or traffic pattern might have been busy around it.”

Students were also responsible for creating innovative solutions to thermal performance. With an average annual temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the structures were required to meet the standards of the International Energy Conservation Code for the coldest zone in the United States.

Drawing inspiration from quinzees, the cabins feature insulation techniques such as structurally insulated panels for the walls and flat roofs designed to hold the snow in the winter. The efficiency is intended to reflect the school’s commitment to the environment, CBW says.

The project’s difficult circumstances, however, was CBW’s greatest challenge. Not only were they working to deliver a project that was done in an extremely short period of time, with 15 weeks of design and prefabrication and just four weeks of on-site construction, they were met with a remote location that required all materials to be small enough to put in the back of a pick-up truck and light enough to be carried.

Sommerfeld recalls that on the last day, the senior guide, who got to pick which cabin he was going to live in, turned to the students and said, “No matter which cabin I pick, it will be the nicest place I’ve ever lived in my life.” He added, “I think that was a proud moment because they realized how much the client appreciated what they’d done and how much their hard work had paid off. It was an honor to know we did right by them.”