The Rita is completed!

Kim and Richard’s Tiny House on Rita Street in Sarasota  County, Florida is complete.  We ride-tested this little tiny house for 5 days over the 4th of July weekend with a load of 4 people, and found that it rode pretty smooth.

The Rita

We had more visitors – neighbors, West Coast acquaintances, and Rita fans – in 4 days than we had moving in may to Audubon Park.  This perhaps speaks more about the West Coast lifestyle vs. the Central Florida lifestyle.  Here people are busy, generally keep to themselves, and feel like they are intruding, I guess. In Sarasota, we had multiple visitors that came and enjoyed the Rita’s hospitality.  We had real conversations with real people.

The Rita is set in a plane of white gravel which is near-zero maintenance.  The boys found a shark’s tooth in the gravel.  It is on short concrete piers with a 2′ high crawl space.  Riding up on piers allows the land underneath to breathe and for the Rita’s ventilation to work properly like a true Cracker house.

The foundation is fairly solid.  There were some interesting secondary vibrations through the house when the washing machine was on the spin cycle.  Footsteps did not reverberate.

The front elevation expresses mobility, our age of motion accelerated.  And yet it is very static, anchored to the land. The front wall is a grid that is thirteen wide by seven high, interrupted by a simple white band.  These two prime numbers plus the partial end corners yield a rhythm that is both complete and incomplete at the same time. The lack of certainty in the front facade expression – nothing is an even number, the ends are slightly unresolved – references our current times of incomplete wisdom and a searching, a yearning for closure.

The central white band can be read in multiple ways. It emphasizes the door, a decidedly un-sarasota-school move (entries were de-emphasized by Rudolph and his peers, you just slipped between two floating plans and presto!  you’re inside before you know it). Here the Rita presents the front door to you in a pure, white band.

An element, repeated thrice, has been a theme of our existence together even back in Hawaii days and extending to Norris.  Chelsea and Rita both have the number 3 repeated in patterns, solids, and voids in its design.

The interior space, upon entering, fulfilled its requirement to have a series of interlocking functional areas that unite more than they separate.  This is typical of nearly all tiny houses but it was particularly important with the vertical space to unite the loft. From 3 people to, at one time, eight, we had plenty of space and it did not feel crowded like a hotel room would if 8 people were in it.

The quality of light was diffuse and generally very high, and it changed throughout the day. The Rita is surrounded by the lush tropical rainforest of Florida’s lower west coast.  The greens of the trees highlighted many of the colors inside and as the sun moved across the sky there was a delightful sense of time passing. It was as if the interior of the main space was a little bubble, holding a soft bright light inside.

The wasp-tail between the two wet rooms wasn’t too narrow.  One wet room – holding two lavatories and a toilet – was surprisingly spacious. The other wet room had a shower and a tiny washer/dryer combo and it felt fine.  It was the smallest room in the house but with a window it was not too claustrophobic.

The  bedroom, with its niches, also felt significantly larger than it was, due to the high ceiling.

The loft was perhaps the most successful space of all.  With one window facing north, up high, and another window facing west, down low, the loft was filled with stronger light but it had a “treehouse” sensibility being up in the trees.  The boys seemed to enjoy it and rarely came down except during feeding times.

As a design experiment the Rita is more successful than I ever expected.  Kim Mathis’ interior design talent helped to furnish the interior in a way that enhances the spaces. Scott Stoothoff, the builder, took great care with the construction, interpreting the design skillfully, and the result is an excellent living space with plenty of happy small details that he finished well, so the house will reveal interest and delight over and over again.

[see for photos].



Cuba in the Crosshairs

While I somewhat tongue-in-cheek renamed the conference “Cuba in the Crosshairs”, its actual name was Cuba at the Crossroads.  The conference did yield some good information and it illuminated a contrast between my view and that of conference participant Lauren Nareau, who had a somewhat rosier view of Cuba’s potential to achieve sustainable development.

Nareau’s talk was titled “Climate Change and Cuba-US Relations:  Out of the Cold War and into the Anthropocene.”  She presented a Cuba poised to move towards sustainability, because it hasn’t modernized.  And indeed, there is this potential.

My view is a little darker, I am afraid.  The Cuba that I see is overwhelmed by its own problems, quite unable to even cope with its own garbage.  The Cuba of tomorrow will, more than likely, be subsumed by capitalism.  Whatever is good now will diminish, and whatever is bad now will get worse.  This is the dark side of growth.

During the panel on evolving government, it became clear that Cuba is quite self-absorbed in its own difficulties.  Sitting, as it does, with Puerto Rico, Haiti, and other Caribbean islands in crisis, it seems that this region is going to slide into a troubled period.  Alas, the conference presenters cared little for open debate.  Perhaps the time was not appropriate for this and there was, instead, a need for more formality.

The guest speaker, Miguel Coyula, is a well known Havana architect and retired professor, who gave a fairly classical understanding of the situation on the ground today.  He shared his fear that the city will be overcome by the forces of capitalism and sadly lose its specificity of time and place.

It is up to the future generation to guard against this danger.  Unfortunately for this conference, the future generation was predictably apathetic, seemed bored by the older people talking, and preferred instead to stand out side, presumably discussing which clubs to go to that evening.

They will therefore inherit the problems without engaging in them, and perhaps will have a bold new solution that we have not thought of.  Let us hope so, for the gift of the city of Havana, and other cities in Cuba for that matter, are being given to them to do with what they will.

Morosov on digital democracy

While I’ve been following the notion of digital democracy, or digital capitalism, for years, I was struck by the article that Evgeny Morosov published today in the Guardian.  In it, he accurately names the problem of today’s society as the control that the digital medium has acquired.  His articles for years have warned that democracy is imperiled by the rise of Facebook and Google.  It seems now all too obvious that warnings by Lanier, Morosov, and others are too late, and we’ve regressed to a sad form of bastard feudalism.

Morosov today blamed the leading voices of criticism for denying two realities:

  1.  The loss of public space and the rise of unregulated private space in the dissemination of information.
  2. The refusal of regulators to combat the profound corruption that has infected every institution from top to bottom.

Instead, the savvy elite fret over the rise of populism as if it were something that could have been stopped.  Stopped by what?  Further, Morosov depicts democracy as a kind of Titanic navigating between Google and Facebook like  icebergs preordained to rip the hull of our ship and sink everyone on board.

Seems a little too late for that…

Thinkers like Anthony Orum, Henri Lefebvre, Rex Thomas and architects like Daniel Liebeskind beomoaned the loss of public space since the eighties.  Their concerns were brushed aside.

Elsewhere I have noted the loss of the physical form of public space, and how we have consistently seen it vanish like dust in the throaty winds of capitalism.  Disney replaces Main Street, a public space, with Main Street, a private space.  This concern has been consistently lampooned, belittled, and considered quaint.  Doesn’t matter.

Public space does matter.  Perhaps my error was in naming the physical geography of public space, that of the sidewalk and street.  Perhaps something more insidious was going on all along, the evisceration of public space as the safe place where we took in the news of the world and played nice with each other.  That is, the space where we read the news.

Jaron Lanier, formerly of Google, lectured audiences and warned of this years ago – but his warning was chiefly about commoditizing our privacy.  That ship has also sailed and we now see our intimate thoughts recast almost instantly in the form of “push” ads.  So far, our desires are only being marketed; but the next step, Lanier warned, will see these desires become weapons against us to remove our freedoms one by one.

So these guys, and surely others, have correctly identified how it got this way.  They don’t really address the mechanics of it though, preferring to remain in theory.

The mechanics must sadly be left to Rex Thomas, an obscure writer who has studied the problem.  Linking Thomas’ work with Lanier and Morosov reveals the truth.

In the old days of newspaper, one newspaper might publish something written by a reporter.  People would read this newspaper.  Other newspapers would check it out and, if it was found to be true, the story would be repeated.  If it were not true, the stories would die or stay with the newspaper trying to “spin” things to a certain viewpoint.  There was time to check facts and even if they published unverifiable stories, their slant automatically caused healthy suspicion.

The time it took for people to digest the news, and compare it to their own realities, was what kept a level playing field.  People also lived largely outside their homes, and their interaction was the way people checked in with each other.  Today, people spend vast amounts of their time and attention on tiny screens and cannot verify what they are seeing except by other feeds on their tiny screens.

In the olden days, some newspapers – the so-called “yellow journalism” – concerned themselves with spin and positioning but were easy to identify.  Their stories were isolated to their own kind and did not spread.  There is nothing different between yellow journalism and National Enquirer-style newspapers and the “fake news” problem that has taken down the press.

The only difference is the digital age allows these stories to spread too quickly to stop.  There is no time to fact-check.  Trending topics spread within minutes.  By the time the facts are checked, it’s too late – we’ve been had.

Morosov alludes to this problem at the end of his article by suggesting regulation.  Germany wants to hold Google and Facebook accountable for what kind of stuff they conduct through their systems.

This is not the answer either.  He even admits that most regulation today backfires, and that our world is so complex that the law of unintended consequences crashes the system. Every new regulation either makes the thing they are regulating worse, or makes another unregulated problem worse.

Rex Thomas has a different solution that involves none of the Estates General nor the regulators.  Instead, it involves the individual.  Thomas, in his private essays, says “the only way we can stop this is to take personal responsibility for what we tweet, post, and blog about.  We must first own it and own the consequences.”

Thomas’ solution sounds too easy, involves no lawyers, and doesn’t cost anything.  How could it work?  In fact, it is the opposite:  the hardest thing possible.  If you are tweeting something and stand to gain personally from its spread, then you should stop doing that.  If you are repeating someone else’s tweet, and you can’t tell whether it is true or lies, you should stop repeating it.  Much, much harder than it sounds.

Thomas likens it to the “know your food origins” movement that started several years ago, when people began questioning the industrial food machine that Michael Pollen wrote so eloquently about.  He advocates a “know your news origins” movement so you are as aware of where your news comes from as you are the tomatoes you bought at the store.

Whether or not we like it, the digital age has spawned a monster.  Morosov calls this the age of “digital capitalism.”  It sounds like a market that is about to profoundly fail.