Techie of the Fortnight: Philip Chung

Techie of the Fortnight: Philip Chung

Since Socorro is more than just NMT, and Paydirt is for the Socorro community, the Techie of the Fortnight column stretches into the surrounding community. Therefore, our last issue of the semester will feature not an NMT student, but someone outside of the school who also possesses and uses their ‘’techie’’ skills.  

Philip Chung is building a tiny house. Despite the name, the 13 foot high, 24 foot long structure is an imposing feature. Besides the size, its prominence also comes from the colors. Half of the side facing the driveway to the tiny house is covered in a mural of M Mountain and the surrounding desert, with rain clouds above the peak pitching out rain and lighting. To the right of the mural is a massive window, where you can see one of the three lofts inside, and to the right of the window are two sheets of perforated aluminum, one purple and the other silver. The entire thing is built on an 8.5x24 foot trailer, with siding made out of western red cedar giving the house a forested, rustic look. It’s not just a tiny, mobile home: it’s a work of art on wheels.

Philip began working part time on the tiny house in the summer of 2016 while working full time job at IRIS/PASSCAL, and in November 2017 resigned and went to work on the tiny house full time.

Lately, he has spent an average of 50 hours a week working on the place, recruiting everyone from the landlord’s grandchildren to visiting parents of friends. “The owner of the land here is also a really big help.” says Philip. “He’s really handy, and I feel like I rely on him a lot.”

I asked Philip why he had wanted to build a tiny house, since the project has been consuming so much time and resources. Most of the material he’s used to build the home has been ordered online, or he’s gone to Albuquerque to find it. Plus, it’s important enough to him to resign from his full time job and fully devote himself to the project.

Well, I looked at the prices of real houses and thought I don't want to pay that! I could just retire 10 years early and build my own. I thought it would be way more fun to live in, more so than any house you could buy, and building it would be a great learning experience.” says Philip, and then adds “I also like to live in small spaces. There’s a lot less to clean.”

There certainly aren’t many surfaces to clean in the house, with the interior flooring at around 200 sq ft. Looking around the small interior of his tiny house shows Philip’s dedication to accuracy, a strong attention to detail, and an overall drive for perfection. Yet combined with the hard angles and utilitarian surfaces are organic and wild aspects that give the little building its own wild flavor.

“One thing I’m especially proud of with the project is how much fun it's turned out to be.” says Philip. “It incorporates a lot of art. I haven’t built everything in the most functional way, but I think I’ve built it all in the most interesting way. A lot of it is unplanned.” he adds. “I’ve been designing it as I go.”

In addition to the 200 sqft on the ground level, the tiny house also hosts three lofts, one of which is suspended by steel cables just above the entrance. “This might change, but I’m thinking of having that be a battle station.” says Philip, pointing to the suspended loft. “You know? Just set up a few monitors and play games up there.”

The suspended loft is surrounded by a larger, lower loft towards the rear of the home, and another loft towards the front, closer to where it can hitch to a truck. From the middle loft, it’s a short four foot gap from the edge to the next loft in the front, and about a six foot drop to the floor below. When I ask if he plans on putting in a little bridge, Philip laughs.

“You have to jump! I do it all the time.” he said, standing on the larger loft after using a step ladder to climb on. “This house will keep me young.”

It’s not just climbing around the lofts that’ll keep him strong. While the interior design closely resembles a primate exhibit, the outside is equally designed for an active sapien. A ladder built into the side of the house reaches 13 feet up to the platform on the top of the tiny house, and the mural is covered in holes ready for rock climbing holds.

“Most of what I’ve made I learned on the go.” says Philip. “I went to school at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, where I studied engineering with robotics. All of the learning there is project based, so I’m used to metal working and working in a machine shop. But there was a lot of learning on go, which is another reason I wanted to build the tiny house. It’s a new learning process.”

“When I quit my job, regardless of the tiny house, I felt like it was time to move on. The job had lost its challenge, I need to be challenged to grow. I feel like I’ve worked a lot of jobs that have been super fulfilling, but eventually I always feel like it’s time to move on.” Without thinking, I asked him how he balanced working with building the tiny house. “How do I balance work with building a tiny house? Well, I guess I don’t! I quit my job.”

Our final stop on the tour is the roof of the tiny house. After climbing the ladder (which isn’t OSHA approved, but you build houses on trailers to get around regulations like that) to the top, we’re greeted with a beautiful view of the Quebradas, right as the sun begins to dip behind M Mountain. “This is a single sheet of PVC membrane.” says Philip, tapping on the flat white surface we’re standing on. “With the balcony in place, it’ll be a great place for parties.”

From the rooftop, I can truly appreciate the masterpiece we’re standing on. The metal and wood working, the ingenuity, and the problem solving are all impressive, but the level of dedication to the project alone is enough to inspire anyone. The commitment and risk it takes to quit a full time job and work on a project you’re truly passionate about is one of the most extraordinary part of Philip’s tiny house project.

In the true vagabond spirit, Philip is leaving for New Zealand in the beginning of January for some unspecified amount time. His tiny house will wait in New Mexico for his return, and then the two of them will travel off to wherever Philip feels like going.

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