Reframe, Rethink, and Redesign

As the Studio continues to host a revolving door of visitors who come and shake things up, the teams continue to reframe, rethink, and redesign their projects. In the past few weeks, we were visited by Mike Newman of SHED Studio, Katrina Van Valkenburgh of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CHS), and Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects, all based out of Chicago, IL. On top of their meetings with these visitors, the emergency shelter team also met with their client, C.H.O.I.C.E. Executive Director Emefa Butler, to discuss the larger goals of the project. 

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

The latest visitors were the Chicago duo, Mike Newman and Katrina Van Valkenburgh. They both have experience designing supportive housing (and in baking the best brownies this side of the Mississippi), so their expertise (and sweet, chocolatey treats) was especially helpful for us. However, they questioned the idea of prefabrication and challenged us to draw what the units could be if we stick-built them on site by focusing on where the current plan doubles up on materials. After identifying these material inefficiencies we previously missed, we realized how much easier and cheaper the units would be to build for a group of students who have very little construction experience. Stick building would also help solve our lighting issues in the machine core. In our charrette, they also challenged us to pay attention to the little things and dig into what the outdoor communal space can offer to the clients. This exercise was helpful for us to start thinking about what happens outside in-between the units.

Through Emefa’s Eyes

Next, we had the opportunity to meet with our client, Emefa, for the first time since last semester. After two months of hard work and guest reviews, we had a lot to fill her in on and even more questions about the secure boundary, porch, and her plans on future expansion.  

We learned that Emefa sees the project through the lenses of comfort, privacy, and security. She wants the clients to feel like a part of the larger community but also have a sense of security and privacy within the site. These main design considerations helped us conclude that these units should be raised off the ground and enclosed by a short fence to provide that sense of security, without restricting them from the rest of the community. Her thoughts, goals, and expectations are now a guiding light for us as we continue to progress the project. 

team speaking to client

Knockin’ on Prefab’s Door

After our meeting with Emefa we decided it would be best to take a step back, look at the big picture for C.H.O.I.C.E., and reevaluate how prefabrication fits into this project. Now that we know the next units will most likely be built by a group of volunteers with little construction experience, we have shifted our understanding of replicability from a prefabricated factory model to something that can be easily copied by a group of volunteers. Although we are no longer prefabbing, having that challenge laid over the project from the beginning helped inform many decisions that led us to create a clear and tight plan. The concept of the kitchen/bathroom core is still viable and will be built to act as the machine; the only difference is that we will be stick building everything on site. By closing the door to prefabrication, we can focus on simplifying the design to be more easily constructed and continue developing site planning strategies to create the best solution for C.H.O.I.C.E.’s needs and goals. 

sketch of construction workers and factory

The Wheeler in the Sky Keeps on Turning

Our next visitor, Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects, kept the site-planning gears moving by challenging us to zoom out from the bounds of our site and look at the larger neighborhood to find the normative conditions. From this, we discovered that our intuitive move to turn the long end of the unit toward the street is common in this part of Uniontown, that most homes have driveways somewhere on that long end, and that all are positioned further back from the street. We overlaid those discoveries onto our site plan and came up with a new scheme where the units are pushed back from the street, clustered closer together, and are centered around the big tree on site. These moves will help the emergency shelter units fit into the context of the larger community while encouraging the development of a community internal to the site. 

site plan

The Show Must Go On

We made it through a busy month of visitors tossing our projects up in the air. For now, we’ve got our feet back on the ground and some newfound direction. We are now working on developing our new site scheme, figuring out what we are going to do with the secure boundary, and gearing up for our Executive Review in mid-March.  

This was a long one, but we’ve got a ways to go. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and keeping up with our journey.