I’m a Harvard-trained architectural designer living & working in the Coyote Valley area of Joshua Tree, CA. I’m slowly turning a Sea Ranch-inspired half-finished house on Magical Avenue into my studio. Born in Portland, OR. Co-founder (with Jay Babcock) of JT Homesteader and Stewards of the Coyote Valley (in collaboration with the Mojave Desert Land Trust). Coming soon, a project I’ve worked on for nearly 3 years: Sunever Farms. I’m also a rural real estate developer with a 7-property portfolio across 40+ acres in Coyote Valley. If you’re interested in the topic I occasionally teach a real estate course.
Currently obsessed with small-scale, light-footprint living; developing & testing outbuildings and systems to support a lifestyle of small structures on large properties (5 acres of desert freedom). A modern form of homesteading. Equally obsessed with the opposite scale — our whole Coyote Valley project area, approximately 18 square miles (3 miles square) of potential. Read our early manifesto, with more thinking and community building to come. We’ve had some nice recent press on these topics in: Gather, Wilder Quarterly, The Weekender.
My day-to-day… Always designing greenhouses, outhouses, yurts, tipis, tent cities, campsites and homesteading products under the mantra “Lighten Up!” Plant propagation and desert food crop experiments under way at Sunever Farms. Recent product designs include a dry toilet. Coming soon: solar lights.
Jackrabbit Homestead restorations (all available on Airbnb): In 2014 I restored Saturn camp cabin; in 2012 I restored Sunever cabin (a 1950’s ‘kit’ homesteader); in 2010 I restored Sonora cabin (which I had purchased in 2002, and was my first real estate deal in the high desert). Prior to 2010 the cabin housed my Ecoshack design lab project, which was founded in 2003 and active in academic and other sustainability experiments, including the ‘Green Tent’ competition. Ecoshack presented during HDTS in 2004 and 2008. It was featured in the NYTimes and elsewhere. Ecoshack operated in Los Angeles as well, designing and manufacturing small structures and architectural products like yurts, tents, tipis and beekeeper’s huts.
I taught graduate-level design studios at Sci-arc from 2000 to 2010 that explored ideas of fabrication, sustainability and alternative forms of community. Most recent: ‘Instant City: A Manufactured Kit for a Temporary Community’, and ‘Unplugged: An Off-the-grid Ecovillage for 20 Surfers’. Was a critic over the years at design schools including Harvard, UCLA, and Art Center. Lectured widely, starting around 2001, with a heartfelt but goofy presentation at the ‘Paradox Conference’ at Arcosanti a few days after 9/11. Other lectures, at Harvard University, the Whitney Museum and Carnegie Mellon University were arguably more pro.
Got an M.Arch from Harvard University, working under acclaimed architect Rem Koolhaas, and was project leader of his influential ‘Harvard Project on the City’ in its first year (1996). Thesis project, “To Get Rich is Glorious,” about the transformation of China from a local to a global economy, then back again, was published by Taschen in ‘Great Leap Forward’ and was included in an installation at the international art fair ‘documenta X’, which I helped Koolhaas design and produce. According to one critic, “Stephanie Smith’s diary of encountering the people and customs of the new, development crazed Dongguan City in southern China, offers the compelling and evocative observation of a first-class novel” (aw shucks). Here are a couple other articles I wrote along the way: “The GOOD Guide to Buckminster Fuller” (Good Magazine, July/August 2007) and “Ten Strategies for Urban Transformation” (Diadalos).
I’ve enjoyed collaborating with artists on art installations and set designs including the VDay Yurt & The Tract House with Lisa Anne Auerbach, and a set design for the reenactment at LACE of Allan Kaprow’s seminal 18/6 happening for MOCA, as part of its Allan Kaprow: Art as Life show.
Spent a few years in the early days of the ‘sharing economy’ proposing a wide range of resource-sharing projects including Culdesac Commune (featured on NPR), Wanna Start a Commune?, and From Cubicle to Commune. See also: Hi-Desert Barnraisers. My social design project to create an urban network of resource-sharing ‘kiosks’ was featured in the Buckminster Fuller-themed traveling exhibition ‘29 Chains to the Moon’ at Carnegie Mellon University. A funded tech startup WeCommune emerged from this work (and was featured in Rachel Botsman’s important ‘sharing economy’ work What’s Mine is Yours), but failed as most tech startups do. Was a visiting artist at UCIRA (University of California Institute for Research in the Arts) in 2009, and with students and faculty co-created a technology platform for artist collaboration among UC arts programs.