What makes a good home? Filmmaker Kirsten Dirksen seeks to answer this question by taking viewers (and her family) on a tour of minimalized homes and other alternative living situations in the Southwestern United States in her feature-length documentary, A Spaghetti Western on Lean Urbanism. Through sweeping landscapes, personal interviews, and sweet family vignettes of her partner and two children, Dirksen questions the impact of building codes that are meant to protect individuals from physical harm but often have the secondary effect of limiting the growth of affordable housing.
Viewers are introduced to several "rule-bending builders" who find means of shelter through converted storage containers, durable tents, and even salvaged materials. Their idea is to counter the over-development and rising costs of city living by creating more sustainable solutions on their own, typically in desolate areas where codes are either unenforced or don't exist to begin with. The various do-it-yourself (DIY) types profiled throughout the film share a passion for creating affordable housing options near high-cost areas, and must often skirt the legalities of construction and code enforcement to do so.
The film focuses on communities like Arcosanti, an "urban laboratory" in the desert of central Arizona, and Marfa, Texas, a mecca not just for minimalist artists, but minimalists in general. A couple priced out of San Francisco invite Dirksen into their converted storage unit and Brad Kittel, the founder of Tiny Texas Houses, demonstrates the viability of reusable materials when building a home. His "pure salvage" philosophy not only counters over-development, it also benefits the overall environment by reducing waste. These are people that Dirksen describes as innovating too fast for the rules.
A Spaghetti Western on Lean Urbanism doesn't try to negate the issues of safety that building codes are meant to protect, but rather shines light on why members of these alternative living movements break the rules that they do, and how those rules could ultimately be altered to benefit society on a grander scale. In the digital age, where information and tutorials are just a mouse-click away, the overall DIY mentality has flourished in general, but perhaps it is the housing industry that may stand to benefit the most.