I’ve just woken up from my second night on the bus, a stone’s throw from Devil’s Tower, and I feel like it has finally been christened (as our first overnight stop involved an interstate rest station and only a few hours of sleep, I would argue this was our first night really utilizing the space). I feel so at home that I haven’t even changed out of my pajamas yet. Although to be honest, as long as I’m on the bus I’ll probably be in them all day.
Waking up on the bus is, in a word, satisfying.
If I could add a few more words, they would include: haphazard, clumsy, and altogether glorious.
We’re very much in the discovery phase of this journey. Some things work, some things don’t. Some can be fixed using the battery of tools we packed, others we’ll just have to live with. The last 24 hours have really been the first time any of these systems were depended on, and each newly used function brings a sense of pride, mixed with a hint of hesitation and anxiety. And that’s just for the systems that appear to be working.
For example, the storage space is functioning incredibly well. Justin is thrilled with his own lockable storage compartment for camera gear, the under-bed drawers are more than adequate for our giant packs, and the compartments under the mattresses are holding enough tools for a small shop.
Also, the roof of the bus has been surprisingly useful. The skylights are a bit thrown together, and may not handle the heavy use. They are taken off and put back on multiple times a day, and the plastic trim around the skylight is beginning to show wear. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be abandoning the roof. It’s a vantage point that’s too nice to give up.
The electrical system, on the other hand, is giving us fits. We’re currently on our third inverter, which converts the 12v electricity from the batteries into 120v for a normal outlet. I fried the first one testing it with a power tool (I am not a bright man), and the second one turned out to be undersized for Justin’s beloved kettle. (What good is his primo coffee, lovingly steeped using an iphone timer and a digital scale if he can’t heat water water to 5 degrees short of boiling?) We picked up our third inverter yesterday, a full 1500w to handle the beastly kettle. To our (Justin’s) great disappointment, when fired up the kettle would simply give a single beep of despair before collapsing back into silence. He tried to tell me it wasn’t a big deal, but the look of sadness on his face could have killed a kitten. Thankfully we were able to run an extension cord to the campsite hookup for the morning, but there is certainly more work to be done.
All over the bus there are quirks like this. Solutions that I thought were final have turned out to be only prototypes. Essentially V1.0 of an endless number of versions and iterations. It’s like a giant livable testbed.
From the start, this project has been about design at full scale. Not just for the sake of understanding how parts fit together, but for the sake of understanding how they work together. So much of my architectural education relied on the (often misplaced) assumption that what was drawn was not only possible, but functional. Converting this bus has been an incredible lesson in the importance of full scale work. Throughout my final semester I dealt with technical issues that could have been easily glossed over if only drafted on paper. I was extremely satisfied with the progress made on the bus, demonstrating that I could design a space that was without a doubt, build-able, because I had proof.
But that final review did little to prove that this space is functional. It just sat there and looked (quite) pretty.
In a way, I’m looking at this journey as an extension of my thesis project. By living in and depending on this bus for the next three weeks, we will truly test the functionality of the design. Hypothetical usage becomes more irrelevant each day as we continue to embed ourselves into the space and slowly “move in”. We can start addressing the questions and concerns raised when proposing whether a school bus, or any tiny space can become a home. Is the privacy sufficient? Are the systems adequate? Is it psychologically constricting? Is it a real solution, or just a gimmick?
If nothing else, I hope this experience can help expand the dialogue about tiny living spaces and their viability. The bus prompts lots of interesting questions that could (and have) led to hours of discussion, which is truly the point. Our definition of home is so narrow, and our image of a mobile home is even more limited (and generally looked down upon). I think the tiny house movement is terribly interesting, if not entirely viable as a large scale solution. It helps remind those of us who have grown up in a traditional home that we could get by with less. A lot less. 200sqft is small, but I know people who have lived in apartments that are smaller. I want people to see the bus, be shocked at how comfortable, functional, and affordable it is, and maybe reassess what they’re willing to consider a viable home.
Oh hold on, we’re pulling over for a hitch-hiker.