Architecture firm, Olson Kundig along with Dowbuilt and ARUP designed its first tiny house named HomeBase for the homeless encampment, Camp United We Stand. The design was entered into the Seattle Design Festival and assembled at Camp United We Stand's location at Haller Lake United Methodist Church on 1st AVE NE in Seattle. A modular, moveable, customizable, affordable shelter (easily put together and taken apart) for people experiencing homelessness, co-developed by Camp United We Stand (an NGO homeless camp in Seattle and Shoreline, WA), Olson Kundig (architects), Dowbuilt (builders), ARUP (engineers).
Photography Credit: Erik Johnson Bill Leon
Upgrading from Tents to Solid Shelter
Camp United We Stand (CUWS) has deployed the first of its more substantial shelters.
It is called Homebase, and it was designed and built for the Camp by Olson Kundig (architecture), Dowbuilt (fabrication and logistics), and ARUP (the engineering). It is intended to be a modular, moveable, customizable, affordable shelter (easy to put together and taken apart) for people experiencing homelessness. Most homeless
people not in substantial buildings (like shelters or motels) live in tents. The goal of
this project is to design and build shelters that are a substantial step up from tents.
This first structure looks like a very promising solution. The plans will be shared soon,
so other organizations or individuals can build their own or create similar solutions.
We thank the designers, builders, engineers, and artists who created this structure
and who are willing to share their creations so generously.
Process and Product
The Olson Kundig architects met with Campers and Board members several times
to learn about needs and gain insights into priorities. All time and materials were donated by the firms and their professional staff in a true and joyful spirit of oneness. They saw the needs of the Campers and CUWS as their own, and they treated the
Camp as they would any client, with respect and dedication and provided the
creativity needed to solve some demanding problems.
The Campers need better housing than tents—especially in the winter months. Tiny houses are one solution, but since CUWS has to move every three months, the Camp needs a solid structure that can be moved from site to site. The solution developed
as Homebase incorporates modular construction and the use of bolts to assemble
and easily disassemble 2’ x 4’, reusable pieces. Some of these can be left assembled
into walls or floor sections to make reconstruction easier. As sections wear or break,
they can be replaced (and they provide extras sections for this purpose). Some of
the sections are paneled with semi-opaque plastic to let in light through a skylight,
the door and two windows that swivel on bolts to open. The entire structure sits on concrete blocks that allow it to be more easily leveled. The structure has a built-in
4’ x 8’ bed with ample storage underneath. Although the roof is made of flat panels,
it has raised and extended wooden pieces that allow it to be covered by a 16’ x 25’
tarp that ties down, creating more covered storage space on the roof and under
the tarp. More important, inside, Homebase has eight-foot ceilings and room to
move and store possessions more easily. The structure’s base is 8’ x 12’ (the same
space allotted to all Campers for their tent spaces) but feels roomy for people used
to living in tents. The floor joists and beams that hold the panels are constructed
from hardwood finished boards. Most of the panels are plywood (with wood sealant added) over two-by-fours with holes drilled in them so they can bolt together,
creating a tight seal with minimal tools.
The Olson Kundig architects reached out to two local artists whose work was part of recent murals covering storefront windows in the International District. They donated several panels that became wall units, bringing some color and beauty to the walls.
A few more were auctioned off at the 2021 Seattle Design Festival, where Homebase
was on display and attracted many visitors with good ideas and a little funding to
move the project along.
The architects, builders, and CUWS will be testing the structure and keeping notes
on ways to improve the design. Many ideas have already been collected that may
make it cheaper to build and easier to construct. Although it comes apart easily in
an hour, it takes many more to reconstruct. Also, since the price of wood skyrocketed when the structure was being built, the cost was higher than anticipated. This makes CUWS even more grateful for the structure and more interested in raising funds to build more. You can donate to this cause here.
Moving In and Moving On
On a drizzly August day, the idea emerged into reality at Haller Lake United Methodist Church (so fitting, in that the church was the first to host CUWS in 2014). Just prior to assembly, the Camp held a lottery to select the first residents. It turned out to be a
young couple, one of whom is pregnant. They will keep notes for the architects, builders, and future residents and will occasionally allow visitors. Please connect with the CUWS
Board Homebase Coordinator for more information, to share your ideas, to volunteer,
to visit, or to join a mailing list for updates. To tell us how you want to connect, send an email to us here.
How an Idea Became a Reality
No one owns a good idea. They float around us. The need for shelter is older than our species. It has been solved many times in many ways and in all geographical settings
on Earth. The Homebase solution is a great example of how a specific idea or set of
ideas emerge when thoughtful and talented people of goodwill put their minds, hearts, and hands to work and play. In this case, a CUWS camper named Phil Kuhlmey, (later Board Member) saw a way to build a cheap yet solid structure for himself out of cheap materials available at any big box store. And he built it. Bill Leon, a CUWS Board Member, saw it and they discussed its pros and cons. Phil had a ready list of needs and ideas
and laid them out. Bill, who previously directed a community development and design center in Colorado and who had previously recruited UW architecture and landscape architecture faculty and students to build a dormitory for volunteers in Auroville, India, called one of those architects, Steve Badanes. Steve suggested calling Olson Kundig to see if they wanted to play. Bill called them, and after some internal discussions, Olson Kundig volunteered to help find a design solution that was movable, easily constructed from locally available materials, and affordable—not an easy task. Internal charrettes
solicited ideas from many at Olson Kundig. After several months of meetings, visits to
the Camp, online meetings, and critiques of options, they developed viable plans in the spring of 2021. Then they recruited builders from Dowbuilt and engineers from KRUP to help and found the artists who donated panels from their installations. The companies were gracious in their involvement and many of their employees donated significant unpaid time to the project. The summer 2021 Seattle Design Festival became a motivator for the design-build team and led to the first version being ready by the end of August, less than a year after the project began.
Thus, Homebase came into existence from a need and an idea floating in the air and then floating into and through many minds. Truly it came from a collective mind and heart and into existence through the hands of many. Below is a list of those who helped and a poem that captures some of the magic.
Olson Kundig Crew
Kirsten Murray (owner / principle)
Blair Payson (principle in charge of project)
Ekram Hassen (core design team lead)
Clay Anderson (project manager for festival)
Connor Irick (core design team)
Cameron Shampine (core design team)
Sarah McGuire (core design team)
Jordan Leppert (core design team)
Julian Uribe (core design team)
Cate O'Toole (marketing support)
Ciara Cronin (public relations & communications)
Bryan Pendz (core design team)
Tori Cruz (volunteer for festival)
Jeff Busby (volunteer for festival)
Alex Vittum (lead builder)
Katherine Ranieri (lead builder / digital fabrication)
Gabriel Quijada (project manager)
Jim Dow (owner)
Landry Kloesel (marketing)
Carly Dow (social media support)
Rod Harlan, Jr. (builder)
Peter Schaible (builder)
Chris Copeland (woodshop fabrication)
Kevin Seal (woodshop fabrication)
Jessie McClurg (woodshop coordination)
Emily Hill (material coordination support)
David Lambert (structural engineer)
Michael Stearns (Hybrid3)
Bill Leon (CUWS board member)
Carol Jaeger (Haller Lake United Methodist Church representative)
David Christ (builder assistant, design consultant)
How Homebase Came to Be
By Bill Leon
An idea floats in Mind’s space,
Ephemeral, shapeless, impossible to trace.
It has no beginning, it has no end;
To claim ownership by one, would all offend.
But listen for it with quiet mind,
And amazing qualities you will find.
Sharing it—brain to heart to hand—
It morphs massively before alighting land.
At its appointed time, it’s birthed
In materials gleaned from precious Earth.
With more collective energies mixed,
Each presented problem is fixed.
The need so urgent, with grace is fulfilled;
The residents to be housed are thrilled;
The Camp is grateful for this gift of shelter,
Preventing danger, chill, and swelter.
And for participants, relief and rest;
Achievement with elegance in passing this test.
The count of unsheltered is now one less,
And the collective spirit has evoked oneness.
CAMP UNITED WE STAND
c/o RICHMOND BEACH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
1512 NW 195th ST
SHORELINE WA 98177
CAMP PHONE - 425.616.8853
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