Portland State students build sleeping pods for city’s homeless
Author: Karen O'Donnell Stein, School of Architecture
Posted: December 2, 2016

Sleeping pod design created by Center for Public Interest Design, PSU School of ArchitecturePortland State University students took on a unique challenge this fall: design and build micro dwelling units, or “sleeping pods,” to keep Portland’s homeless safe and warm this winter.

Their innovative housing units will be displayed alongside those created by professional architects and housing activists in a design initiative sponsored by the City of Portland. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales will unveil the designs of the affordable one-person homes from 14 teams – including two from PSU -- in City Hall’s atrium at noon on Dec. 5.

In response to Portland’s housing emergency, faculty and student fellows in the PSU School of Architecture’s Center for Public Interest Design (CPID) joined forces with the Village Coalition, City Repair and the Mayor’s 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.

“Portland, like many cities, is grappling with a crisis — more people are sleeping outside than we have housing available,” Hales said. “I’m proud the city was able to partner with these forward-thinking community organizations to design and build these creative new temporary housing options while we continue to work towards the long-term goal of providing permanent, affordable housing to every Portlander.”

Todd Ferry, PSU architecture faculty, CPID research associate, fellow with the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and a leader of the POD Initiative, said: “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. 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 the homeless.

Following the charrette, 14 teams were formed to design and build their own pods. PSU students formed two of these teams: the first team is a class of undergraduate architecture students in a senior-level design studio and the second is composed of student fellows in the Center for Public Interest Design and students in the Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design program.

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.

The Mayor’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 be able to be 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.

Full-scale prototypes of the sleeping pods from all 14 teams will be on display from Dec. 9 to 18 at the parking lot located at the corner of N.W. Glisan St. and N.W. Park Ave., adjacent to the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The pods will be open and designers will be on hand to answer questions Saturday, December 17, from 11am to 2pm.