Portland State University

Portland State University

Portland, OR


Portland State architecture students build sleeping pods for city’s homeless

By PSUArchitecture
Dec 23, '16 7:43 PM EST
Sleeping Pod designed and built by PSU Architecture students. Photo credit: Mark Stein
Sleeping Pod designed and built by PSU Architecture students. Photo credit: Mark Stein

Portland State University students in architecture and public interest design took on a unique challenge this fall: design and build micro dwelling units, or “sleeping pods,” to keep homeless people safe and warm this winter.

Their innovative housing units were displayed alongside those created by professional architects and housing activists in a design initiative sponsored by the City of Portland. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales unveiled the designs of the affordable one-person homes from 14 teams – including two from PSU -- in City Hall’s atrium at noon on Monday, Dec. 5. The full-scale prototypes were on exhibit Dec. 9-18 at NW Glisan St. and NW Park Ave., Portland.

In response to Portland’s housing emergency, faculty and student fellows in the PSU School of Architecture’s Center for Public Interest Design joined forces with the Village Coalition, City Repair and Mayor Hales’ office to launch and lead the POD (Partners on Dwelling) Initiative. An estimated 3,800 people in Multnomah County (which includes Portland) live on the street or in temporary shelters, and an additional 12,000 are estimated to live in overcrowded or unsafe conditions.

“We hope that by sharing these design proposals with the public, we can change perceptions of houselessness and start to come together to create meaningful solutions to this persistent problem,” said Todd Ferry, PSU architecture instructor, research associate and a leader of the POD Initiative. “Our goal is to inspire new ways of thinking about the complex issue of houselessness and spark a community-wide conversation about alternatives to traditional temporary housing.”

About 100 architects from many of Portland’s leading firms participated in a design charrette on Oct. 1 with members of the Village Coalition, residents of Hazelnut Grove, and students and faculty with PSU School of Architecture to learn about the project, discuss possible designs and gather information about the needs of houseless people.

Following the charrette, 14 teams formed to design and build their own pods. Portland State University students have formed two of these teams; one is a class of undergraduate architecture students in a senior-level design studio, and the other is composed of student fellows in the Center for Public Interest Design and students in the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design program. Thirty-eight PSU School of Architecture alumni were among the dozens of professionals forming the design-build teams.

The teams built full-scale prototypes of their sleeping pods in various locations, including a warehouse in North Portland that has been made available to several of the teams to use as a construction site.

“By getting the architecture community involved, we are bringing some of the city’s most innovative and creative problem solvers to the table to generate solutions that increase tolerance, understanding and safe living conditions for houseless people,” Ferry said.

Mayor Charlie Hales’s office has provided financial support to the initiative, defraying the cost of building materials for the teams, and additional support for the initiative has been provided by The Larson Legacy.

All pods are at least 6 by 8 feet and no larger than 8 by 12 feet, with a height not to exceed 10 feet, 8 inches. Each pod must include a door and at least one window, and meet specifications to make them portable and potentially duplicated. The teams experimented with roof styles and angles, cladding choices, insulation materials, floor plans, window designs and more.

The pod built by PSU Architecture students has the profile of a house, featuring a metal gabled roof wrapping over the pod’s long walls, interrupted by a strip of translucent material running from the floor to the gable peak. The pod under construction by the Center for Public Interest Design team, led by visiting professor Pedro Pacheco, is made from salvaged materials and will feature an expandable design.

About Portland State University (PSU)

As Oregon’s only urban public research university, Portland State offers tremendous opportunity to 27,000 students from all backgrounds. Our mission to "Let Knowledge Serve the City" reflects our dedication to finding creative, sustainable solutions to local and global problems. Our location in the heart of Portland, one of America’s most dynamic cities, gives our students unmatched access to career connections and an internationally acclaimed culture scene. “U.S. News & World Report” ranks us among the nation’s top 10 most innovative universities.

About the School of Architecture at Portland State University

The School of Architecture’s four-year bachelor’s degree, two-year accredited professional Master of Architecture and three-year track of the Master of Architecture emphasize focused study in architectural design, the humanities, tectonics and the profession, in a rich, design-based curriculum, as they prepare students for a career as a licensed architect. The Master of Architecture program concludes with the completion of a major design thesis study of individually inspired questions concerning architecture, culture and technology. The first of its kind in the United States, the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design is now offered through the School of Architecture’s Center for Public Interest Design.

Watch video interviews with the sleeping pod design team members