Stack House-CAA Degree Show



This is video of the construction of the Stack House in the Cranbrook Museum of Art. The project was part of a presentation for the degree Master of Architecture from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Designed and built by me, Joe Gluba, founder of the office of small architecture and registered architect in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Stack House is a small, nomadic house designed to challenge the ways we choose to live and build. It is small in order to contrast the ever-expanding American home and lifestyle. It is nomadic in order to reflect and question the mobility and rootlessness of modern life. Stack House is built out of 90 interlocking boxes. It can be taken apart and reconfigured much like LEGOs so the user can shape the house they occupy.

The Stack House's footprint is 12' x 8' or 96 square feet. It is 12' from floor to ceiling. There is a sleeping loft large enough for a queen size mattress. To get to the sleeping loft, the boxes are reinforced to make built-in stairs. All electricity is run in extension cords through a series of chases below and between boxes. This system can be unplugged and rewired to meet new configurations and demands. Though at current construction there is not yet running water, there is space allotted for a sink and instant hot water heater. No bathroom will be inside the Stack House, so those needs will need to be met through other relationships. In the future, an outdoor shower and designer outhouse module may be built.


A main desire for the Stack House project was that the user would be able to assemble, disassemble and rearrange the house with no professional help. To accomplish this required a high level of precision. Of the various forms of digital fabrication researched, Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) routing was chosen as the main process due to precision, time and money. Parts could be made precise enough to interlock like puzzle pieces. Precise replication of details meant that a part could join with many other parts throughout the system and require little to no fitting. Fitting and adjustment are often the most time consuming and skilled aspects of construction.

The Stack House project is looking at the "do-it yourself" concept in two ways. First, I am literally doing it myself by building this project for me to occupy. As a licensed architect, I am a very specialized "yourselfer." So I am also interested in how I can design a system of building that will allow those without construction knowledge to have control over the layout of the buildings in which they live.


In this age of computer generated curves and blobs, I have been questioned by some about the dominance of the rectilinear box on the aesthetics of the Stack House. For me, the strengths of a box to function in a system outweighs aesthetic concerns. The rectilinear box is suited for both reconfiguration and variation. The box is the base module used for stacking and shipping because the shape allows grouping and stacking of various sizes and proportions while remaining stable and efficient. (In this use, efficient means not causing gaps.) An ashlar stone wall is an example of how modules of varying sizes and proportions can work together to remain stable and efficient. To allow for stacking and storage, objects of non-rectilinear forms are often placed into rectilinear boxes to regularize their shape. The rectilinear box is often made of rectilinear material and stores objects of a rectilinear shape. Most processed construction materials tend towards rectilinear shapes because they are produced by machinery that works most efficiently in ways that are at right angles. With all of this taken into consideration, for the Stack House to meet the design goals it had to be boxy.

The completion of design and construction of the Stack House is only the halfway point in this project. The knowledge I can learn from erecting it in new locations and living in it will yield more insight. As I begin to live in the Stack House, systems will need to be designed and built to organize and structure my belongings and accoutrements of living. The Stack House is designed to adapt and change as I learn to live in it. As functions like running water and heating are more fully realized, the boxes will need to be adapted. The system is designed to allow for new boxes that may need to be added. Now that the hard work of construction is done, I begin the next phase in the Stack House project.

Photography by Paul-David Rearick

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