Could a bendable, foldable shelter that can transform to meet different needs throughout the day help people who are homeless in Spokane?
Students from Washington State University's school of design and construction hope so.
More than a dozen students in their third-year architecture studio have spent months designing and making models of shelters that are meant to be functional as well as easy on the eyes as part of the Spokane chapter of the American Institute of Architects' Homeless Shelter Design Competition.
The basic guidelines: design a safe, secure, portable shelter that could be built for under $1,000; is easy to mass-produce; and can protect someone from all the types of extreme weather Spokane gets. It can have a maximum footprint of 25 square feet, and should be no more than 6 feet tall.
The students will find out whose design the judges like most between 5:30 and 7:30 pm on April 27, at the third annual Student Design Awards at the Montvale Event Center.
Then their designs, including one full-sized prototype the class has been working on together, will be displayed from April 29 through May 13 at River Park Square.
"The goal is for this to be used by citizens, by homeless people in Spokane, and for it to be accepted by the citizens, because if it's not accepted by citizens in Spokane, we're not doing our job," says Abigail Shane, a third-year architecture student at WSU.
"We first went to one and talked to the director there about who she meets, what homeless people are looking for in a shelter," Shane says. "And we interviewed homeless people when we were there. We said, 'What do you look for in a shelter?' and 'Do you have shelter?'"
Each student designed their shelter with multiple audiences in mind.
"Not only did we learn from a specific client what their needs and wants were, but we had to also keep in mind this was something that had to be acceptable by the public, be aesthetically pleasing to be in parks, on streets," says Breanna Bagwell, who is double-majoring in architecture and construction management.
"I don't think we're going to solve homelessness with this design competition, but I do think it will bring awareness to the issue," Barajas says.
In addition to the portable shelter competition, students from area universities were also challenged to design Green Cottage units — think something like a tiny home — that can be prefabricated in three modules and built on-site in a cottage village in Spokane Valley.
A big part of these competitions, which are part of AIA's Spokane Architecture Month, is getting students up to Spokane to think about working here after graduation, Barajas says.
"I think a lot of students tend to skip Spokane and go to Seattle or Portland, Chicago or L.A.," he says. "(The competition) kind of bridges the gap between professionals and students."
When the students tour the city, the architects are able to try and sell them on why Spokane is a good place to live and work.
After having architects review each of their designs, grading them for different criteria, and keeping the $1,000 budget in mind, the WSU students selected one of their classmates' designs, called Shape Your Shelter, in order to produce a prototype.
They're using corrugated and other plastics to create the prototype, complete with windows and openings for airflow.
Figuring out how to make the shelter weatherproof, even on hinges, and being able to fold it up into a small enough size to be easy to transport has been a challenge, Shane and Bagwell say.
"I think the design we're creating is definitely a prototype, it's quite larger than we expected; mind you, this is the first thing we've ever built off a design," Shane says. "It's not something you typically get to do as a design student."
With more prototyping, she was confident they could get it to fold smaller — for now, it's more comfortable to have two people carry it because of the length, she says.
"We have this really cool idea, and it can work," says Shane.
See more designs below: