Gregory Kloehn, who graduated in 1998 from California College of the Arts with a BFA in Glass, is working hard to build a better community—literally. At his West Oakland live/work space, he is engaged in an ongoing project to build mobile shelters for the homeless residents of his neighborhood. His efforts have attracted attention from all over the world, and from all types, from off-the-grid survivalists to the media—he’s been featured on Inside Edition, Rachel, and many other shows—to green-minded micro-home design enthusiasts.
What was the first tiny “mobile” home you worked on?
The first was a home made out of a (new) dumpster, in 2010. The idea was intriguing in the same way that Tetris is: How can I best utilize a six-by-six-foot space and still have room to move around?
So, would you call this work art, design, construction, or all of the above?
I just want to keep breaking down definitions—to keep crawling back to the artistic side from the practical side.
How did your neighborhood begin to influence your projects?
I was watching the homeless people and the structures they build, and found it all pretty impressive. The whole green movement toward tiny homes was emerging, and I thought “You wanna talk green?!” These folks don’t have cars or electricity; they’re building shelters for themselves entirely out of garbage and recycled goods. I started gathering the same stuff they use and bringing it back to my studio to make tiny homes for them.
How are these shelters different from the dumpster home?
They’re basic survival shelters. I do use screws and glue, to make them a little more permanent, and wheels, so they’re mobile, but everything else is from the streets: old carpet, refrigerator shelves, pallets, plywood. The materials I find dictate the shape. I’m making one now entirely out of bed frames. When I’m done with a shelter, I push it out into the street, give someone a bottle of Champagne and a home, and watch them push it away!
How did you transition from working with glass, which was your CCA major, to construction?
I put in two years toward a bachelor’s degree at Evergreen State College in Washington, then left to move to Amsterdam, and stayed there for four years working for a company that assists big-name artists who are constructing large projects. I was working a lot with wood and metal and tools, and my interest was piqued.
When I returned to the U.S. I started attending CCA. What I enjoyed most about the school was the free rein I was given to do a little of everything: casting glass, ceramics, metalwork, printmaking.