THE CASTLE: the home within a home

The general perception of a castle is that of an edifice that stands solitary and fortified. However, the ‘Castle’, an innovative mirco-dwelling resulting from a continuing collaboration between the University of Tasmania (UTAS), School of Architecture & Design and Youth Futures Inc, will actually encourage the strengthening of relationships by providing privacy and security.

The Castle has been purpose-built to provide crisis accommodation for young people at risk of homelessness. It has been designed to be easily transportable, fully self-contained and, with its clever use of space, suitable for becoming a home for a single occupant.

When Harry Tams, Director of Youth Futures, approached Dr Richard Burnham at UTAS back in 2008 with the problem of how to provide accommodation for a family home where the shortage of space and associated emotional stress was placing children at risk of leaving and becoming homeless, Dr Burnham saw it as an excellent project for the ‘Learning by Making’ program.

The program developed by Dr Burnham and colleagues provided an opportunity for groups of students to work collaboratively on 'live' architectural projects for real clients.

The program is operated under four guiding principles. Firstly, to foster community engagement in the process of making quality designed contributions to public space. Secondly, that a holistic approach is taken with regard to education and the process of making. Next, group ownership over design ideas is nurtured to foster a stronger bonding to the project through shared creativity. Finally, students must gradually assume total responsibility for the project including management and consultation with stakeholders.

The project has been enriching for participants in many ways.

From an architectural learning perspective the digitally designed castle questions what a house really needs to be. It explores the overlap between architecture and furniture, kitchen cabinetry, boatbuilding and the caravan industry.

From a design perspective, the project has instigated the design of new software and a continuing process of refinement through community feedback and prototype development. In fact, the prototypes have resulted in a highly adaptive digitally cut plywood construction system called ‘panitecture’. A model kit has also been produced to assist people to design their own version of the Castle. In line with the School’s policy, an important aspect was ensuring the project was built on sustainable principles of design. This included looking at everything from the long-term benefits for participants, ‘leanness’ in timber construction, and mass-customisation to balance the efficiencies of mass production whilst responding to the unique needs of each customer.

From a practical point of view the challenge was to create a construction that didn’t require a high level of skill proficiency for assembly. Youth Futures has taking on the challenge to build the Castle as part of its training program for young people. It takes about two weeks to complete a Castle dwelling. However, not only has the project provided these young participants with an opportunity to gain skills and the attainment of a construction certificate it also provides for greater self esteem and stronger connection to the community.

Currently, there are two Castles in continual operation in the community. In the past year, Youth Futures have built a further twelve units. While every home may be a man’s castle, the UTAS Castle will be a home within the home for teenagers at risk of losing far more than four walls.

The Castle is part of the 2012 Design Island showcase at Design:Made:Trade.

Download the Castle Brochure