Walking the floor of the National Association of Home Builders’ International Builders Show in Las Vegas this past January, many attendees stopped in their tracks when they came across two 96-in.-diameter concrete pipe segments converted into a functional tiny home. Using two standard ASTM C76 concrete pipe segments with an ASTM C361 joint, the home has all the features of a tiny apartment, with modular components fitted into the pipe without any additional penetrations or coatings. 

The design for the Rinker Pipe Dream home, by architectural student Sandra D. Guillen, was the grand winner of a new design contest sponsored by the American Institute of Architecture Students and concrete pipe manufacturer Rinker Materials. “I felt the design had to be something practical, since homelessness is such an issue,” says Guillen. “[The goal was] for it to be affordable housing, but I also wanted the design to be for someone to live comfortably in that space.” 

Guillen recently completed her Bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Catholic University of America and is planning to back to school for her Masters degree. She was looking at scholarship opportunities online when she came across the AIAS contest on Instagram. “I was doubtful about submitting my design since there were only 24 hours left until entries were due, but I spent 23-and-a-half hours designing this and I won,” she told ENR.  “AIAS is a great organization to help students promote their designs.”

The concrete pipe home features a functional kitchenette, shower and toilet, with plumbing and mechanical connections handled below the flooring. The bed is lofted above a work space, and the home's plumbing reuses grey water from the sink and shower to flush the toilet. Guillen also designed the housing units to be stackable, with patio spaces outside each entrance. 

Entries into the contest were judged by representatives from AIAS and Rinker. “This competition was a unique and innovative way to show off the out of the box thinking of students for problems like homelessness, overpopulation and natural disasters,” says Kimberley Tuttle, director of partnerships and events at AIAS. After sifting through dozens of entries on a wide range of criteria, judges picked the winner based on a combination of creativity, feasibility and cost. Tuttle says running the contest entirely through the AIAS Instagram, rather than a dedicated website with submission forms, lead to a far larger volume of submissions. “The benefit to this approach is many students who think they’re not qualified to enter, they’re too timid to try, can see the example submissions we post each week and think ‘maybe it’s not that hard,’” she says.

The Pipe Dream home was big draw at the International Builders Show, according to Guillen. “I was the tour guide of the tiny home,” she says. “I got to talk to everyone who went into the site, and encourage people standing by to come up and take a look.” While the home was only a prototype, there were more than a few offers to buy a few concrete pipe houses on the spot, she says.

Repurposing standard construction materials for new purposes is nothing new, but the team at Rinker was eager to see if more could be done with the company’s concrete pipe products. “People don’t really think about concrete pipe since it’s in the ground,” says Thomas Hartley, vice president for sales and marketing at Rinker. “We had originally considered doing the contest with a box culvert, but that wouldn’t require as much creativity,” he says. “It was important to us to manufacturer a home out of a unique shape.”

While Rinker currently has no plans to commercialize the winning design, Hartley says he did have several conversations at the Builders Show with potential customers, including municipal officials looking for ways to combat homelessness. “One person asked me how much does it cost, and I said how much are you willing to pay?” he recalls. When asked by show attendees about how the concrete pipe home would fair in foul weather, Hartley explained that the pipe is made to spec and is watertight up to 13 psi. “We weren’t sure how it would be received but I was amazed at the level of interest, I think we were the hit of the show,” he says. “We don’t have any plans to do another [design contest], but I would do it again easily.”

“I was super excited to have my design from paper built life-size. Being able to go inside that pipe house was a great experience,” says Guillen. “Working with concrete pipe was kind of an odd dream for me, since my mom always said if I didn’t go to school I would end up living in the drain pipe under a bridge.”