Apart from the fact that he lives in a dumpster, Dr. Jeff Wilson is a fairly normal guy. A professor and dean at Huston-Tillotson University in Texas, a single father who drives a Volvo, and a social man who drinks beers at hip Austin bars, he wasn't forced to sell off all his belongings to move into the 33 square foot recycled trash can. Nor is the man known as Professor Dumpster some kind of die hard minimalist like the Moneyless Man and others of his ilk. Instead, Jeff challenged himself to design a home that uses just one percent of the natural resources that average Americans consume, and picked a dumpster because shipping containers just don't get people fired up the way they used to. On a fine sunny day, just two weeks after moving in, the nutty professor made us Turkish coffee outside the dumpster as though he had been doing this his entire life. Flip through our gallery to see exclusive photos of his new home, and learn more about the Dumpster Project after the jump.
Entering Jeff’s home takes practice. First he has to unlock a padlock on the horizontal sliding access door a couple of feet off the ground, use a chair to open the top roof, and then hoist himself into the rusted interior (or he could use a new ladder Texas Disposal Systems made out of recycled materials.) Aside from a new roof that doesn’t leak, a hat rack, and interior and exterior locks, few structural modifications have been made to the dumpster, but by the end of the year-long experiment, Jeff’s home could become not only the world’s most tricked-out metal trash can, but one of the most cleverly designed tiny homes available anywhere. And really, this is what the dumpster is all about – making science and design education fun and getting people to think about what they really need to lead a satisfying life.
Although he can take a shower at the gym, Jeff conducts day-to-day life in the dumpster. This is where he wakes up, changes clothes, makes coffee, eats meals, updates his Instagram account, responds to emails, entertains guests, meditates and sleeps. Which also means he has to gather his own water from a nearby lake using two five gallon buckets. One trip can take up to 57 minutes, and it would take four hours to do just one load of laundry. That’s a lot of time for a man who works 14-16 hour days. Luckily, he should soon receive a Hippo Roller from South Africa, which will allow him to more efficiently transport greater volumes of water. He will use his grey water to irrigate a small garden that he is coaxing to life, but really, this soon into the experiment, he is still working out the kinks of his daily routine, which will change as the project evolves.
Currently the Dumpster Project is in its “camping phase,” but probably around April (or when it gets really hot), the team will fill up the tiny space with all of the accoutrements common to the average American home. Jeff is already envisioning a massive TV screen (even though he doesn’t watch much), a washing machine and dryer that he will install outside, and other energy and water-hogging devices that most Americans buy without even thinking. Students involved with Green Is the New Black, a group Jeff started to encourage students to take ownership of campus environmental issues, will help measure his consumption patterns – right down to the food he eats during this period and how it affects his cholesterol. For students at a tiny urban college, this is a groundbreaking project. “We didn’t have anything sustainable going on at this campus six months ago,” Jeff explained about the historically black institution. “And most of the kids that are in that Green is the New Black group aren’t even biology or science majors.” Their lives have already been transformed, he says, and several have signed three page legal documents that allow them to fill in for Jeff on nights that he has his daughter (because his ex-wife, understandably, isn’t wild about the idea of their young child sleeping in a dumpster.)
The Dumpster Project’s final phase will be the most exciting. The team will consult with top notch designers, engineers, landscape architects and others to transform the dumpster into an über cool tiny home using high and low technology. It is here that both professionals and students will have a chance to apply their most inventive thinking to the problem of “creating the best ultra small living space on the planet,” says Jeff. But before they raze his home, they will have a chance to test their ideas on a partial dumpster installed inside the classroom laboratory. “We want to do something that fuels the imagination,” says Jeff. And we’re having fun with it.”
All images ©Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat