Dan Philips Presents Sustainable Housing with Wildly Creative Designs

“Unique” is an overused word, so much so that it appears in overqual­i­fied redun­dan­cies like “com­plete­ly” or “very unique.” But, what the hell, I’m going to go ahead and call Dan Philips very unique. Philips, who has worked in army intel­li­gence, and as a dance instruc­tor and antiques deal­er, seems to have final­ly found his call­ing at age 64: build­ing cus­tom hous­es out of up to 80 per­cent sal­vaged and recy­cled materials—from con­struc­tion castoffs like old doors and odd-shaped beams to cat­tle bones, wine bot­tles, and license plates. In the TED talk above, Philips, a very wit­ty and engag­ing speak­er with a slight build and bushy han­dle­bar mus­tache, walks an audi­ence through some of his idio­syn­crat­ic designs, remark­ing on details like eggshells as dec­o­ra­tive but­tons, sal­vaged vin­tage appli­ances, his own low-tech solu­tions for laun­dry chutes and bath­tubs, and a sur­pris­ing­ly taste­ful “Bud­weis­er House.”

If any of this sounds a bit quirk-for-quirk’s sake, it’s not (entire­ly). Philips is a man with a seri­ous pur­pose. As a New York Times pro­file put it, he is “fer­vent­ly com­mit­ted to his vision of build­ing for low-income peo­ple,” espe­cial­ly poor, sin­gle moth­ers (Philips’ father aban­doned his fam­i­ly when he was 17). A self-taught plumber, car­pen­ter, and elec­tri­cian, his vision—articulated through his Huntsville, TX com­pa­ny Phoenix Com­mo­tion—includes hous­ing that is not only struc­tural­ly sound, but also archi­tec­tural­ly beau­ti­ful. “I think mobile homes are a blight on the plan­et,” he says. “Attrac­tive, afford­able hous­ing is pos­si­ble and I’m out to prove it.” While many of his buy­ers default­ed on their mort­gages dur­ing the recent crises, and some of his hous­es have been “gentrified”—sold to upper mid­dle-class fam­i­lies attract­ed by the design fea­tures and ener­gy efficiency—Philips is still pleased that his con­struc­tion rep­re­sents the real­i­ty of sus­tain­able design with recy­cled mate­ri­als and a build­ing phi­los­o­phy that tran­scends the end­less vis­tas of bland nou­veau colo­nials, ranch homes, and shod­dy tract hous­ing that seems to stretch across every sub­ur­ban land­scape.

Click here for a slideshow of sev­er­al of Philips’ cre­ations.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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