Tiny Homes with a Big Impact

Category: Building Community

Written By: Nicole McBride

Date: December 26, 2019

Tiny Homes with a Big Impact cover image

John-Mark Echols, The Field’s Edge founder, and RJ Lopez, AIA, were friends through church before working together on this community of tiny houses for Midland’s homeless. 

“Finding Home in Boomtown Premiere Tonight 7 pm” flashed on the marquee sign at the Yucca Theatre in Downtown Midland, Texas, as friends and family of the cast and filmmakers arrived to see the documentary about The Field’s Edge, a mission to provide tiny houses for the homeless in Midland County. The Field’s Edge Founders John-Mark and Briana Echols and filmmakers Matt and Katie Maxwell posed for photos on the bright red carpet rolled out on the sidewalk. Crowds of fans surrounded the red carpet and a photo booth as the stars of the film made their appearance and then filtered through the doors of the historic theatre to claim their tickets, drinks, and popcorn. A tiny house model — hauled in for the premiere on a small trailer — welcomed ticket holders inside for a view of the tiny space and the designs created in part by architects and engineers from Parkhill.

The idea for The Field’s Edge came from the Community First Village in Austin, Texas. This community for the homeless began with RVs and then added tiny houses. John-Mark and Briana sold their home in Midland, quit their jobs, and moved into an RV in Austin with their then 2-year-old daughter, Truma. Those firsthand experiences helped them to flesh out the plans for their own ministry and the impact it will have in Midland. 

“The whole idea behind it is just this desire to bring people out of their homes and into a community with the rest of their neighbors,” said Briana. “The tiny house, I think, suits those needs well. It gives them a place that’s comfortable and secure while also encouraging them out into relationships.” 

Inside the tiny house outside the Yucca Theatre, warm evening light flooded the 200-SF room neatly arranged with a bed, cabinets, counter space, and a table. Residents of The Field’s Edge will be able to choose from several tiny house designs and personalize them. The simple designs are meant to satisfy basic individual needs while community spaces, such as the bathhouse and kitchen, will be shared spaces. 

“It just shows you that we take a lot for granted – you know, our walk-in closets, and our huge kitchens and living rooms,” said RJ Lopez, AIA, project architect. “What really makes a space something that’s yours is definitely an interesting aspect to think of, and we don’t do a lot of homes at Parkhill. 

“It was interesting to put on that ‘residential hat’ and think about people after they leave the buildings that we normally design and reside in. It was really exciting that they were thinking about these as being more than just a place for them to stay but really a place that they could call ‘home.’ Where they could take ownership and feel love through the building.” 

Before the film-goers were ushered into the theatre, they were encouraged to tour several booths set up in the event space next to the lobby. Parkhill set up virtual reality goggles and TV screens to offer an immersive experience of the layout of these tiny homes. When the participant slipped the scuba-mask-like goggles on, they were able to see all dimensions of the virtual design. As they flailed their arms, they reached toward the walls, the bed, the windows, and other amenities that only existed through the view of the goggles. As 7 pm neared, the attendees circled to the concessions stand, to the overflowing bags of popcorn stacked next to the curtained entrance, and into the theatre to find their seats before the lights flickered off. 

Matt Maxwell, producer of Finding Home in Boomtown, decided to document the journey of his friends as a project for his master’s of fine arts degree. When his wife, Katie, explained that John-Mark and Briana had decided to sell their house and move into an RV, Matt knew this was a story he wanted to tell. 

“We thought that was very strange and counter-culture for Midland where it’s all about getting bigger houses,” Matt said. “They were doing something different, so I just decided to start following them and filming them. It turned into a much bigger, greater story.” 

Matt stood at the back of the theatre as the film progressed and listened to the reactions of those in the audience. The “Awwwws” echoing through the crowd when Truma toddled across the screen and sniffles as heart-wrenching realities molded the story. When the theatre lights flickered back on, there was the presence of a new understanding and deeper meaning of the word “home.” 

“I would say, in short, that home is just where you belong,” said John-Mark. “It’s not a building, but it’s a place where you have people that love you. That can be so many different varieties of things. It can be big homes. It can be small homes. It can be anything. It’s just the desire and the longing that we all have to belong and to be fully known and to be fully loved by the people around us. That’s what home is for us.” 

The Field’s Edge teamed with Parkhill to master plan a community of 100 tiny homes. The pro-bono services were a part of the 2019 Building Community Investment initiative at Parkhill. 

“There is not a project that I’ve been a part of that illustrates our values and our mission better in the sense of ‘Building Community,'” said Eric West, PE, Director of Site Development and Planning. “It hits all the different facets of what that phrase means for us at Parkhill, for what it means for me individually, in the community, in individuals’ lives, in our employees, and the way we engage with each other and with our community in doing things.

“It’s a perfect fit. It will be a project that will definitely highlight what it means to work for Parkhill, what it means to be a part of this company, and be a part of the communities where we work and live.”