The Hippie in the Attic
In the small Midwestern collage town where, after returning from living in Europe, I spent my k
through 12 years, there was an interesting neighborhood immediately adjacent to the campus.
The large State University was the economic engine of the town and because it is located on a
hill everyone calls it “The Hill”. This neighborhood is on the east slope of “The Hill”.
After the Civil War large houses had been built on this East slope and over time the houses had
been converted to apartments. One house might have five or six apartments, each created in an ad hoc manner. Because this housing was the most inexpensive near campus it attracted students, dropouts who stayed on in the area and bohemians who enjoyed the low rent and proximity to amenities at the University and surrounding cafés.
As I completed high-school I became aware of the wonderful bohemia near my neighborhood of Old West Lawrence and began having more friends and associates in the East Slope. At one
point an artist made a T Shirt with the shape of the United States and the word “Jungle” written
on it in red white and blue. The shirt was given out one evening at the premier bohemian café,
“The Rock Chalk Café “ to those of us that frequented the café. After that, the East Slope, with
grand old converted mansions, became known as “The Jungle”.
One friend, who was much older, probably mid-twenties at the time was Kim. He was a member
of a family of hippie artists and considered to be a very cool person, as were his brother and
sister. Even his mother was cool. Kim needed super inexpensive housing. His needs were beyond just #affordablehousing , he needed dirt cheap housing. Also he wanted to live in “The Jungle”. His housing desires were not unusual.
A few guys found creative dwelling solutions in “The Jungle”. One friend who lived in an
alternative co-ed fraternity called “The Big House” lived in a large coat closet. His father was a
judge and he later became a judge also. I had a room upstairs in “The Big House” for a year
during the peak years. At the time I just had to move a few blocks away from home to be
independent. This former Mayor’s Mansion was a premier housing solution for us.
Kim’s housing solution was a large uninsulated attic in one of the huge old houses in “The
Jungle”. He could only access his apartment via an attic access ceiling panel using a ladder. It
was surprisingly roomy but unfortunately very hot in the summer and a bit cool in the winter. The rafters were covered over in cheap cotton tapestries from India, the floors had middle eastern style carpets, and cushions from India or South America provided the seating. Add candles, incense and a big old water pipe and you can get an idea of the hippie attic environment.
Kim’s Attic was one of the memories that I drew from when designing “The Micro Coach
House”. This design has a living space much smaller than Kim’s apartment but has a similar
feel. Like Kim’s apartment “The Micro Coach House “ is accessed with a pull down ladder. It
also has cozy sloped wall feeling and requires a need to use close-to-the-floor sitting and
sleeping areas. The substantially larger “Mini Coach House” is just a bigger version of the same concept but has a full garage/shop space below.
Low cost seems to be a critically important ongoing need that bohemians and students
desperately seek to satisfy. These memories of “The Jungle” are one of the inspirations for
starting the online design firm easybuildingplans.com. It has provided me the opportunity to
develop small building concepts. Even after designing large luxury buildings for most of my
career, the enjoyment of creating small, idiosyncratic spaces has never gone away.