Combatting Homelessness with Writing and Design
Tomorrow, May 10, students and faculty members from the College of Architecture and Design (CALA), will discuss and exhibit work created in a service-learning based seminar and design studio course focused on finding solutions to homelessness in the Twin Cities and beyond. Collaborations with St. Stephen’s, a Minneapolis shelter, and Homeless against Homelessness (HAH), a Minneapolis organization, will be featured.
When I learned about this event, I asked its organizer, Virajita Singh, who is a Research Fellow and adjunct faculty member in the Center for Sustainable Building Research in CALA, for more information. Here is what she sent me.
CALA Dean Tom Fisher and I applied for a grant from the Center for Writing to integrate writing and design in our courses (seminar and studio) on homelessness. The grant allowed for a TA, Rebecca Celis, a graduate student in architecture whose master's thesis this semester also focused on finding solutions to aid the the end of homelessness. Though the integration of writing and design has been very interesting, Tom Fisher and I have found that the real strength of the courses - the civic engagement - lay in the content and connection to the larger community. The students participated in a workshop organized by St. Stephen's Human Services, an organization that runs one of the Minneapolis shelters where they lived the life of a homeless person for a day and had an incredible eye-opening experience. The student projects in studio ranged from developing "props" - design for homeless persons living on the street, to becoming designers for a client - St Stephen's - and making proposals for the redesign of the existing shelter that will be handed over to St. Stephen's to use for fundraising and development. The final studio project of the semester was design of a "Solidarity" center - a day drop in center for the homeless for which they developed the design brief with HAH (Homeless against Homelessness) as the client group. Through the semester, the students interacted with homeless people and got input to their projects from homeless persons, some of whom were invited to the college to give their input.
The seminar work focused on research: exemplary best practices across the nation on solutions to help the homeless were studied followed by case studies of architectural projects that accommodate needs related to the homeless population. In addition to these, each student interviewed an architect with a list of questions that the class generated collaboratively about how the professionals perceived the problem and what might be done in their opinion.
The timing of the courses parallels a renewed focus by the City of Minneapolis / Hennepin County on homelessness. There is a new City/County coordinator on homelessness, Cathy Tenbroeke, and also a 100-day, 70 member Commission (of which Tom Fisher is a member as a result of Cathy's hearing of our classes) which has begun its work on a strategic plan to end homelessness in Minneapolis. As part of our grant from the Center for Writing we are in the process of compiling a book of the studio and seminar work that will be given to the commission. The national magazine "Architecture" has also asked Tom to write an article on the studio as well.
This is an impressive example of engagement: interdisciplinary cooperation and university collaboration with homeless people, service organizations, and government to address a serious societal problem.
Those of you who are in the Twin Cities and would like to learn more can attend tomorrow's event at the University of Minnesota:
4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Presentation by students and instructors, Rm 155 Nicholson Hall
5:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Reception and Exhibit, Nicholson Commons*