Structures for Housing LA’s Homeless


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Categories: Homes / Dwellings

USC’s School of Architecture, located just a few miles from Skid Row, recently launched the Homeless Studio, where 11 fourth year students are rethinking homeless architecture, building temporary, moveable, modular, and expandable structures that are strikingly imaginative, not to mention needed.

IF YOU’VE RECENTLY driven the streets of Los Angeles, you’ve probably noticed a striking uptick in the city’s already huge homeless population. Encampments are still centered in downtown’s Skid Row, but many more tents, shopping carts, and makeshift shelters are popping up on sidewalks, in parks, near overpasses, and under and over bridges throughout the city. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority recently reported an 11 percent jump in the city’s overall homeless population, and L.A. officials have placed $1.2 billion bond measure HHH on the November 8 ballot, which would finance 8,000 to 10,000 units over 10 years for the chronically homeless.

In response to this ominous situation, USC’s School of Architecture, located just a few miles from Skid Row, recently launched the Homeless Studio, where 11 fourth year students are rethinking homeless architecture, building temporary, moveable, modular, and expandable structures that are strikingly imaginative, not to mention needed. The best part: students will deliver their finished structures to homeless people around the city, and their final project will become a prototype shelter for a homeless services agency in the San Fernando Valley.

“These guys just went nuts,” says USC Lecturer Sofia Borges, who leads the studio with co-instructor R. Scott Mitchell. She’s referring to her students’ excitement about building varying-sized structures, rather than the typical student models and renderings. The class, which runs until December 7, is sponsored by Madworkshop, a new Santa Monica-based non-profit that funds projects focusing on craft, technology, and innovation. To hone their skills, students don’t just study homelessness and attend talks from experts in the field, they also meet with homeless people from around the city through the help of local agencies like the Midnight Mission and Skid Row Housing Trust.

“This is not an arm’s length exercise,” adds Borges. “You can think that you know what it’s like. But until you’ve been there and seen it you cannot design a compassionate solution.”

Thanks to these meetings students have picked up smart solutions from the streets. These include designs for tents, tarps (which students call “tarp-itecture”), cardboard boxes (known as “cardboard craftsmen”), shopping carts, trailers, and so on.

Jeremy Carman and Jayson Champlain’s temporary, nomadic shelter—a powder blue, rectangular, fiberglass-coated box that expands upward via scissor trusses and contains sleeping and storage space—can be pulled by a bike, like many trailers on Skid Row. It can be set up in about 30 seconds, a big advantage over laborious tents and slapdash solutions. A pull out wood shelf at ground level keeps tenants’ feet off the street. “If you’ve had your head on pavement for years that’s a really great move,” Borges says.
It reveals an understanding of how to incorporate dignity into a design.

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