Design Team Dason Whitsett, AIA; Remy Labesque; Adam Pyrek; Samantha Rusek; Maddy Busch; Michael Kelly
Photographer Sarah Natsumi Moore
With home ownership rates declining and affordability issues affecting cities nationwide, a serious question arises: What is the future of housing? Kasita is one answer. If successful, it stands to transform our concept of a house from a building we invest in to a product that we use.
Inside, Kasita feels bigger than its 352-sf footprint. Thanks to the front glazed cube and integrated elements throughout, the resulting design is, according to Design Awards juror Julie Snow, FAIA, “really quite brilliant.” Juror David Miller, FAIA, agrees: “It’s a beautiful space that’s swathed in natural light.”
Kasita — also the name of the company — is the technology start-up responsible for this housing product. The business, founded in Austin in 2015, emerged out of CEO Jeff Wilson’s interest in minimal living. (He is also known as “Professor Dumpster,” after he lived in one while teaching at Huston-Tillotson University.) The company positions small-footprint living within the current environmental imperative to scale down. The idea also dovetails with today’s “digital nomadic lifestyle” adopted by many young people. Given its history, trends, and crises, Wilson believes that the housing market is ripe for disruptions that challenge how we source, occupy, and discard residential space. Kasita is an “experiment
to test some of these new hypotheses.”
While Kasita’s potential as backyard ADU or remote cabin is obvious, the the most interest to date comes from developers, who, according to the company, see the stackable version as a way to quickly create rentals on tight sites in cities plagued by housing shortages. Kasita is also working with city governments on ways to create low-income housing, provide accommodations for schoolteachers, and densify invisibly without disrupting “neighborhood character.” It is a product with many applications.
Architects Dason Whitsett, AIA, and Adam Pyrek — both architecture professors at UT Austin — helped turn an industrial prototype into a fully buildable structure. Because Kasita isn’t a traditional office, Wilson said it was important to find architects “who can think in a particular kind of way, as what we’re asking them to do is exciting and scary.” For Wilson, in terms of the types of problems being solved, “architecture is a slice of the pie, but it’s not a pie, and not even a puzzle — it’s more like a Rubik’s cube.”
Modular housing has been a consistent obsession for modern architects. “These microprojects are huge challenges, and they’ve been attempted for decades,” Miller says. Where previous efforts failed, Kasita’s “broad approach to solving the problem at different levels,” Whitsett says, will help it succeed. The company hopes to create a direct-to-consumer model of home-buying. In addition to fabricating units, it will offer its own financing.
Though ambitious, Kasita is just getting started. The first units are under construction, and a stacked prototype is expected soon. Its current price tag is about $140,000, and should decrease as production increases. To date, the effort is, in the words of Snow, a “remarkable achievement. There’s a beginning exploration about where it might go.”
Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA, is a regular contributor to TA.