Environmental Design students construct portable shelters

GIMME SHELTER—Fernando Meija finishes construction of his portable shelter with the help of Chris Martinez on Tuesday in the E-3 quad. CN/ Vicky Nguyen
Architect talk—Fernando Meija explains his design of a portable shelter to jurors Juan Pablo Onate and Thomas Rivera during a presentation in the E-3 quad on Thursday. Chris Martinez, who helped Meija construct his design, watches in the background. CN/ Vicky Nguyen

By Vicky Nguyen

Environmental Design 102 students presented functional portable shelters they designed in the E-3 quad on Thursday.

Juan Pablo Onate, who works at the architecture office Adept and a former East Los Angeles College Architecture student, was part of a design jury that gave critique of the shelters’ designs.

“I’d like to have one of these if I were homeless,” Onate said.

Students were assigned a task to design portable shelters that could be easily assembled and moved. They were only allowed to use wood pallets and other recyclable material that could be easily obtained. The shelters could be used as temporary protection for homeless people or for outdoor activities such as camping.

Fernando Mejia, Holly Monarrez and Manuel Velazquez had their design chosen for full-scale construction based on their functionality, comfort, cost and ease of use.

After construction, the designers slept in their shelters on campus Wednesday night to test them. This was the first time students slept in their own designs on campus overnight.

Monarezz’s design, “A Living Room Shelter,” was inspired by her experience as a mother. She recognized families, as well as individuals, need shelters. Her shelter fit up to four people, included collapsible seating and had padding to protect from splinters.

“I have two little ones. One is 9 months and the other is 7. They love to run around and do all this crazy stuff,” Monarrez said. “My daughter is crawling, and I don’t want her to get hurt.”

Mejia’s shelter, “Tent House,” had a flexible design that allowed a user to easily deconstruct it and turn the shelter into carts for transporting belongings.

Mejia said the project addresses homelessness, an issue dear to his heart. His family had been displaced in the past.

“From one week to the next, we were caught scrambling, having to find a new place to live after 40-plus years of being in the same property,” Mejia said. “I felt entirely conflicted addressing this, because I feel there’s a huge separation between the r-ealities that are faced by the majority of the public and the limitations of approaching this as students. All we can do is open the platform to have these conversations.”

Professor of Architecture Alexis Navarro oversaw the project and aimed to create a practical and engaging assignment.

“In past years, the projects were more abstract, not really functional,” Navarro said. “This year, we started to do something practical, functional, that had a specific purpose.”

There were challenges in piloting a new idea. At first, all designs were to be constructed over spring break; however, the wood pallets were heavy, so construction was done after spring break and in teams rather than as individuals.

“I had to go through a lot of different channels to get this done. From making sure the sprinklers don’t come on, to security and parking,” Navarro said. He cited Dean Al Rios and Architecture Chair Michael Hamner as vital to the success of the project.

Navarro hopes the project starts a tradition.

Full-scale construction of shelters took about a week to complete. The entire project was completed in about a month.

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