Students compete in shelter design

Collapsible homeless shelter constructed to serve Spokane population


EZEKIEL NELSON | The Daily Evergreen

WSU student Mohamed Ismail investigates the inside of a third-year architect’s full-scale model of a homeless shelter design solution, part of the ‘Shape Your Shelter’ exhibition in Carpenter Hall.

MORGAN LESTER, Evergreen reporter

WSU students completed a prototype of a homeless shelter for a design competition in Spokane.

The School of Design and Construction students unveiled their design in Carpenter Hall on Wednesday. The collapsible shelter was designed by the members of Assistant Professor Mona Ghandi’s Homeless Shelter Design Build Studio, with a total of 14 proposals being prepared, three of which went on to be awarded prizes by the Spokane Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in their Student Award Show in April of 2017.

“Acknowledging the fact that a lot of people are left behind in this competition ruled by consumerist values,” Ghandi said of the project, “our Homeless Shelter Design Build Studio in the spring 2017 got engaged in social issues and explored design solutions for improving the community and help the homeless issue facing our societies.”

As a part of 2017’s AIA Spokane’s homeless shelter design competition, the studio came together to provide a solution to the problem of homelessness in Spokane. In the city alone, there are 1,185 individuals and 170 families without a permanent roof over their heads, according to the 2012 Spokane Annual Point-in-Time Regional Homeless Count.

The team also sought to bring back the dignity that had been stolen from the homeless. Ghandi said the design team wanted to give homeless people a chance to become financially independent and live comfortably, and cover the gaps left by the charities also combatting this issue. As they researched in Spokane, they found there was a large gap in the opportunities available to homeless families, Bagwell said.

EZEKIEL NELSON | The Daily Evergreen
Professor Mona Ghandi opens the “Shape Your Shelter’ exhibition, a third year architectural project to design shelter solutions for the homeless, Wednesday evening in Carpenter Hall.

“A lot of kids under the age of 13 aren’t allowed in any shelter in Spokane, just because if they would allow children in, they wouldn’t be able to allow males in,” Breanna Bagwell, a member of the design and the team’s network team, said.

Abigail Shane, the network team lead, added, “If there’s a sex offender, they [the shelter] wouldn’t know that. They don’t want the kids to be harmed.”

The design team sought to correct this problem, by designing a modular shelter that could be shaped by the needs of the inhabitant, while remaining portable, structurally sound and comfortable. Among the tessellations of the final design, one can find many portholes and windows through which the shelter can be opened or sealed. These were done with the consideration of bringing in outside breezes during the summer or being able to hold in heat during the winter.

Another major issue the team said they found was making the structure aesthetically pleasing.

“One of the main aspects that we all focused on was how the public would view these shelters,” Bagwell said. “So making it aesthetically pleasing so that having these structures in parks and next to houses isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but actually provides value to these spaces.”

However, she said they were soon reminded of their budget, as the design brief specified that the total cost could be no more than $1,000; this would eventually lead them to the lightweight, sturdy, and cheap option of corrugated plastic. It too, however, presented a host of problems that had to be solved.

“One thing about [the corrugated plastic] was that if you bent it, it broke,” Bagwell said, “So we had to come up with the rubber, and the hot glue… you found one thing and it just built and built.”

Shane said that while the design was very much a prototype, the team worked to give the structure the ability to fold, and to create as many shapes as it was able to while still remaining lightweight and structurally feasible.

The final design accomplished what the team set out to do – be a sound, sturdy design that could be manipulated, shaped, and set in the ways that its inhabitants would need it to be. On their website, they demonstrated the many ways the shelter could be set up; among those shown were a dome, a half dome, a round, and a completely closed in hut. A design, Bagwell and Shane said, came because of the immense collaboration of the studio, and the culture of the studio.

“I think that architecture, we’re kind of a little family, as cliché it is,” Shane said, “We all put in the hours, we all work our butts off. There’s not necessarily one person that drags, and if they do, someone will put them in their place … we all expect the best out of each other … having that type of atmosphere really challenges architecture students to do well.”

Bagwell added that beyond the competition and the challenge, the studio is a place of immense creativity.

“We are in studio right now,” Bagwell said, “and we were up there, and one of the girls came over to me and said ‘I just need to tell you an idea’ and told me her idea, and I gave her some pointers on which way to go … she went and talked to five other people and had a completed idea.”

Now, after many cans of energy drinks and hours designing, their project sits completed in Carpenter Hall. It will be on display until Nov. 17 in the gallery, but Professor Ghandi has said that there is more in store for the team’s work.

“We are working with the city of Spokane for continuing this idea as a long-term plan through a Pilot Program,” Ghandi said at the opening reception of the exhibit.

Already, Ghandi said, the team has received a lot of feedback at its display in River Park Square and from many residents of Spokane.


Correction:  The organization hosting the competition was the Spokane Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, not the Archaeological Institute of America.