Adaptive Housing, Fall’20

To house the increasing number of displaced persons, the Timber Tectonics in the Digital Age course challenged students to design emergency shelters and plan their transition into a permanent cooperative residential community. University of Oregon Architecture students and Oregon State University students in Wood Science & Engineering, and Civil Engineering worked together in small groups to design the phased development of a comforting village for refugees fleeing wildfires, homelessness or other traumas.  Using a “flipped classroom” method, Associate Professor Nancy Cheng provided tutorial videos on parametric design and structural analysis software, and OSU Associate Professor Mariapaola Riggio pre-recorded lectures on wood structural systems, construction methods and detailing, then interactively guided students in applying these skills.

Site Plan evolution
Theseus Village starts with basic modular shelters and a community house at the street, then fills out more housing under canopies and shared gardens and recreation space.

For example, the Theseus Village Group (B.Arch. students Paul Turner and Isaac Martinotti, with OSU students Ryan Longman and Hanna Girod) investigated how local wood could be used to create sustainable structures. Longman found that Oregon grows a lot of underutilized small diameter Ponderosa Pine poles that could be deployed as an evocative structural framework.  Peeling veneer from larger logs also can yield core poles that could be used in this way.  The students designed metal connectors that would allow quick assembly of the poles into roof trusses that could unify a family of buildings.  The family of parts can create both quick-assembly minimal dwellings and tree-like canopies.

Between a permanent floor and a large translucent canopy, residents could construct their own rooms with lightweight panels or create larger amenity spaces.  The canopy is sized so that residents could enjoy being amid the tree-like structures when they ascend to the mezzanine level. Due to the pandemic, most teams used software to visualize variations andstructural stability, with little physical modeling. To better understand construction issues, Paul Turner 3Dprinted scale connectors that were used to join wooden dowels. Isaac Martinotti generated compelling animations of the construction layers and designed an IKEA-style construction manual. 

Site Design:  Students debated about the challenge of visibility and openness of their settlements.  If they were providing a refuge for those fleeing disasters, would residents feel comfortable with strangers entering the area?  They navigated the challenge of how to be welcoming to neighbors yet protective of potentially traumatized residents by offering an amenity for the neighborhood at the street and directing passers-by around their more private housing. Students brought their own examples and insights to the problem, with Abigail Hernandez and Brooke Everard contributing valuable resources about trauma-informed design and cooperative housing camps.  They envisioned what activities could enliven a community, what services residents needed and what could inspire them. Shared resources envisioned for the public street included food carts, a food bank, community rooms, and a basketball court.

In thinking about the dynamic quality of the development, Sydney Palmer with William Ko and Nada Albader designed homes could grow like slices of bread, beginning with a minimal core sleeping space and then expanding to shape semi-public outdoor spaces.  (below)

For the Grove project, M.Arch. students John Miller and Justen Stiles worked with OSU doctoral student Sujit Bhandari to design a modular building system with four-post columns that could receive Structural Insulated Panels.  Their renderings show how the system could be initially be used to rapidly create a village of tiny houses with a shared amenity building for hygiene, sheltered amidst existing trees.  With a longer time frame and more labor, the same system could create a warming center and more livable housing options.  Once the community was established, fund-raising would support constructing an elegant community building for shared dining, flexible workspace and supportive services that features natural light and wood finishes. Their project shows how a modular plug-and-play system simplifies construction and shapes spatial possibilities.

Construction: The Grove project shows how students first addressed small-scale micro-units for rapid construction and secondly used long-span solutions for the permanent community center. In studying the construction sequencing, they speculated on how two people could quickly build a small shelter, and then attract investment for long-term solutions that require more time, labor and resources. The project emphasized the trade-off between construction build speed and durability. Students explored how available stock materials could be extended through small amounts of customization and how pre-fabrication could expedite on-site assembly. They explored expressive structure for the community center. Below, Reed Olszewski, Joey LoRocco and Karter Cox used curved glulam beams spanning between light wood framed walls with cable cross-bracing for their community center.

National & International Connections:  Guest speakers included two innovators of plywood houses: Tokyo architect Hiroto Kobayashi explaining his Veneer House ( self-buildable relief shelters and MIT Professor Larry Sass ( on the LuBan automatic panelization system. Gensler Principal Steven Paynter presented their modular Cross-Laminated Timber Proto Model-X Tower developed with Sidewalk Labs.

The studio is part of larger Adaptable Refugee Housing project, supported by the UO Global Justice Project, to help students understand the needs of economic and political refugees. Global colleagues are researching how students can better address uncertain site conditions through enabling future inhabitants to take a more significant role in shaping their own environments.  Research team member Ryan Maruyama M.Arch.’19, provided the international context from Boston, UO instructor Marziah Zad lectured on how her IAAC Valdaura Labs team milled on-site trees to create an off-grid Ecohouse ( Spatial Justice Fellows have brought their lived experience to teaching about refugees. In Spring, Grace Aaraj taught UO students about Architecture for Refugees from Beirut, Lebanon; and Logman Arja, originally from Darfur, Sudan, taught students on how 3D printing of clay could support those in developing countries.

The fifth iteration of the Timber Tectonics course will be offered in Fall 2021.

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