From stage to shelter: PSU Architecture students create new Pickathon stage that will transform into homeless sleeping pods
Author: Karen O'Donnell Stein
Posted: July 24, 2017

Sustainability has been at the forefront of every version of the Pickathon Treeline Stage, created annually by PSU Architecture students since 2014. However, at this year's Pickathon Music Festival (August 3 – 6, in Happy Valley), the Treeline Stage will take the ideal of sustainability to a new level.

The 2017 Treeline Stage, part of a four-year partnership between Pickathon and Portland State University School of Architecture, is designed and built by a team of students and faculty from 690 wooden trusses. Once the festival is over, the entire stage will be dismantled and the 690 trusses will be transformed into sleeping pods for homeless individuals, intended to become a part of a new transitional housing village in the Portland area. (Image: Concept model of Treeline Stage)

The Treeline Stage will be the site of performances ranging from Tank and the Bangas and Wolf People, to KING and Ty Segall, in a variety of musical genres. The stage structures will form the centerpiece of the performance venue, which includes a beverage garden and lounge area also made from trusses, creating an all-encompassing Treeline Stage experience for festival attendees. The Treeline Stage joins five other performance venues at the festival, hosting 18 of the weekend’s performers. 

Designing for dual purposes: musical inspiration and physical sanctuary

The stage design itself inspires the audience to consider the dual concepts of sanctuary and community, which play out here in both conceptual and practical ways. Using the triangular geometry of the truss as the repetitive building unit, the design team has created three vessel-like structures of various heights, ranging from 12 to 32 feet tall. The vessels are thoughtfully placed in relation to each other to offer glimpses of transparency and opacity as the viewer moves around the stage. The vessels themselves create spaces for quiet, intimate social moments, a respite from the festival atmosphere of community and togetherness. Furring strips that provide structural stability along the base of the vessels will double as seating benches within the vessels. Lighting design will highlight the rhythm of the trusses as they bow in and out, alternately leaning inward and extending outward.

In keeping with previous Treeline Stage designs, the idea of “diversion design-build” plays an important role, but with a twist. (Watch the story of the first Treeline Stage on Inhabitat.) “Diversion design-build,” a concept devised by School of Architecture faculty Travis Bell and Clive Knights, refers to the creation of a transformative performance venue from mass-produced construction-related materials that are temporarily diverted from their usual industrial purpose, and then sent back to work once the festival ends. This year, rather than being returned to service in the construction industry after the celebratory festival experience, the building materials will go forth to become new structures in their own right—providing shelter for homeless individuals. While past Treeline Stage designs have strived to minimize the environmental impact of the construction, leaving no trace after the festival, the 2017 version is intended, in addition, to maximize social impact with its design.

“We are aiming to make the biggest impact we can through the dual use of these materials, first as part of a powerful stage design that speaks of our shared human need for sanctuary and connectedness. Next, after the festival, the materials will be transformed into a series of tiny homes that offer actual sanctuary and safety for the individuals who will live in them, and the sense of connectedness and community that comes from being part of a village,” said Assistant Professor Travis Bell.

Each truss is built from two 8-foot 2x4s, carefully measured and trimmed to minimize waste. The tiny-home design, which will be constructed from the trusses, springs from the S.A.F.E. (Sanctuary and Acceptance for Everyone) Pod designed and built by the architecture firm SRG Partnership last year for the POD Initiative. The first version of this micro dwelling is currently being occupied as part of the Kenton Women’s Village, a tiny-home village sheltering 14 women as they transition to permanent housing over the course of one year—a project that was spearheaded by PSU School of Architecture’s Center for Public Interest Design. 

Planning for transformation from stage to village

The PSU Center for Public Interest Design, together with community partners City Repair, Communitecture, Village Coalition, and Catholic Charities, will help lead the effort to create the village in Clackamas County, following the festival. Although the plans for the village are still being finalized, the new community is expected to follow the model of the Kenton Women’s Village, and a network of nonprofits and local government agencies providing services to help the residents transition back to permanent housing. PSU Architecture and Public Interest Design students will contribute their design expertise to the site design, layout, and construction of this new community, which will originate in the hotbed of musical creativity, shared humanity, and acceptance that many associate with Pickathon.

“In many ways, this is the ideal of sustainability—not just to keep one’s use of materials to a minimum, but to find ways to make our use of materials mean more, create more, and actually have a positive social and environmental impact on the world, through innovative design combined with compassion for those in need,” said Bell. “We are diverting energetic surplus in addition to material surplus—we are diverting good will, human effort, and design.” 

Catena Consulting Engineers and Lease Crutcher Lewis are project collaborators on the Treeline Stage.

Learn more about the POD Initiative and Kenton Women’s Village:
Portland community prepares Kenton village for homeless women to move in, The Oregonian, June 8, 2017
Sleeping pod village for houseless women opens in North Portland, Portland State University, June 8, 2017
Architecture students and faculty help plan and create a village of sleeping pods, Portland State magazine, June 2017