Like the vlogger in "Why I Quit Studying Industrial Design," Hank Butitta found himself dissatisfied with his chosen course of study. "In architecture school I was tired of drawing buildings that would never exist, for clients that were imaginary, and with details I didn't fully understand," he writes. "I prefer to work with my hands, exploring details thoroughly, and enjoy working/prototyping at full scale." So rather than quit, Hank figured he'd gain his Masters with a kick-ass final project: Convert a schoolbus into a living space.
Now forget for a second that this is a bus, and look at this as a pure design problem. You've got a 225-square-foot space with existing elements, and you want to convert it into something livable, flexible, and most importantly do-able; you've got to build this thing with your own hands with nine grand that you scraped together, and three grand of that went into buying the bus on Craigslist. How would you tackle it?
Here's Butitta's approach, as we understand it:
Work With Existing Elements
Butitta looked at the fixed elements in the bus: The windows. There were twelve to a side, aft of the driver's compartment and entry stairwell. Despite their inconsistent size (three of the windows towards the rear are wider), he looked at the windows as modules or units, each of which would have something built in front of it. A certain amount of units would comprise each of the four living areas he wanted to create: a place to sleep, a place to lounge/work/eat, a kitchen and a bathroom.
Draw on Past Designs to Improve Current Designs
Butitta had seen schoolbus conversions before, and observed that "Many bus conversions cover a majority of the windows to aid in privacy and insulation. This results in a dramatic reduction in natural lighting and obscures the fantastic panoramic views, not to mention compromising the embedded energy of the windows already in place."
To avoid making these mistakes, he resolved that nothing would be built higher than the bottom of the windowline. He also created insulated translucent panels that would slide downwards to disappear behind the fixtures lining the walls, but could be raised up and locked into place when privacy was needed.
Create Perfect Solutions
The fact that the window-covering panels slide downwards is like the ideal that Jony Ive often describes, where it seems to be the perfect solution, the only logical choice. For example, if you wanted conventional blinds that slid upwards, you'd have to use something compressible, like Venetian or fabric blinds; these have no insulation. For insulation you need something solid. But something solid cannot slide upwards and disappear, as you run into the problem of the curved ceiling. A surface that hinges and swings upwards would work, assuming you came up with a latching system, but the panels would then be exposed and unsightly. If they swung to the side like doors, they'd then cut into the already narrow space. Making them disappear downwards seems like the only "correct" answer.
Make it Do-Able
The window panels slide along tracks in the plywood walls Butitta built out. Wood is a lot easier to work with and square fixtures to than the sheet-metal walls of a schoolbus, and easier to build into.
See Where Your Design Leads You
The built-out walls running up to the curved ceiling creates a cove where they meet. Whether by planning or accident, Butitta found this the perfect place to not only conceal LED strip lighting, but also to support the bent plywood panels he used to line the ceiling. Popped into place along the curve, they support themselves through simple compression. Admittedly we don't know if Butitta planned the ceiling first or found this solution after deciding the walls had to be built out, but we're guessing it's the latter.
There are plenty of other interesting design solutions and decisions Butitta made, particularly the way he handled the expandable sleeping arrangements and lounge seating that converts to workspace:
We encourage you to read those details on his Hank Bought a Bus website. And while we wanted to give you a taste of what we liked about his design, it's particularly the way he thinks about design education that we dug:
I...thought it was important to demonstrate the value of full scale iteration in architectural education. There are too many architecture students who don't understand basic physical limitations of materials or how they can be joined. This project was a way to show how building a small structure with simple detailing can be more valuable than drawing a complex project that is theoretical and poorly understood. I think we need more making in architecture!
And one more "here." Here's video of Hank in his bus, shot while he was attempting to Kickstart a project to product a photobook of a 5,000-mile roadtrip he went on in the bus:
Sadly that project was not funded, but you can see Hank's online documentation of that trip here.
Hank, if you're reading this, we really hope you'll consider becoming a professor on the side!