Design Study: The Adaptable Home

by | February 20, 2017 0 Architecture

In September of 2016, The Center for Public Interest Design reached out to their network of designers and activists to participate in the POD Initiative, to design and build a modestly sized home for someone without one. We previously wrote about that here.

Since then, the POD Initiative and the City have been in talks to relocate the 14 built pods to the Kenton neighborhood by the end of March.

At the onset of this pro-bono project, our team decided on a democratic decision-making process. It took our collaborative group of people, with unique values and ideas, to come up with a design that is meant to change the public’s perception of what a homeless dwelling is.

Here, we’ll look deeper into how our PAD – short for Portable Adaptive Dwelling – came about:

The team believed that this home should help to destigmatize the image that comes to mind when someone mentions the words ‘homeless camp’. Because these pods would be placed within existing communities, gaining support from the surrounding neighborhoods is crucial to the longevity of the initiative. With this in mind, one of our contributions is to make these homeless communities and the objects within them, engaging, diverse and beautiful.

Early concepts from the project team


Early design ideas concentrated around creating a space that, once the occupant gains stability within their life, can adapt and grow over time.  This concept was influenced by Chile’s Elemental and the work of Allan Wexler. We explored many different ideas relating to this, such as creating a kit of parts and a user-manual explaining how one could expand their shelter modularly, and considered how each pod could interlock with its neighbor.

We eventually came to the realization that function was following form and reconsidered our design to focus on the essentials: We needed to create a protected space for someone who is truly in need of a place to sleep, store their things, and enjoy a space for eating, reading or doing small tasks. We landed on a simple box, something easy to build.

An early concept exploring modular walls.

Harkening to the original interest of the team to build a space that can grow and adapt, we designed an auxiliary space, a front porch, that folds out beyond the maximum required footprint of the building.

The impermanence of the fold-down porch allows the pod to be packed up and shipped to a new site if necessary. It provides the framework for the owner to create a unique front for their home, giving them ownership over how it looks. The front porch also provides the opportunity for social exchanges with passersby and creates a protected vestibule from the extremes of Portland’s hot summers and wet winters.

The communal effort of the many designers and activists that took part in this project not only has helped to shift the public’s perceptions on homeless shelters, but the ideas have helped to push the envelope as to what a homeless community can be and what the role of the designer can be to address this issue.

The final built project will be donated to one homeless member of our community.

Big thanks to everyone involved at SERA: Reid Weber, Tim Bestor, Greg Carlson, Emily Green, Molly Culbertson, Haley Wallace, Anne Zuercher, John Cline, Josh Cabot, Josh Lupkin, Rose Formosa, Walker Holt, Artur Grochowski, Andrew Pulliam, Noah Ives, Nigel Rutigliano and David Stephenson

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