Homelessness and Architecture

Earlier this year, our Upper School students spent a day of service around Santa Barbara, with a theme of “homelessness”. Students spent time at PATH Santa Barbara, Showers of Blessing, and Food Forward, to name just a few organizations. Our school also has a long history of working with the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and Habitat for Humanity. So when the time came this year to finish with a major architectural design project, the connection was obvious.

After reviewing some typical architectural projects aimed at alleviating the burden of homelessness, such as the Los Angeles Star Apartments, we decided to pay a visit to those working directly with the homeless. A visit to the Rescue Mission was eye-opening; our host Trinity handed out the hard hats and led us around the Yanonali Street property.

Trinity leading the group around the Rescue Mission’s construction zone

The Rescue Mission was in dire need of renovations, having been built in 1987 for the express purpose of housing and training the homeless of Santa Barbara. After over 30 years of unending community service in that location, the Mission sought to bring their facilities up to date, while still maintaining their daily commitment to receive, feed, and shelter anyone coming through the doors. As such, the project is being carried out in phases.

At the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission; from left to right: Joshua,
Peter, Ben, Todd, Alena, Nolan, Ava, Madison, Sam, Pedro, Caleb,
and Mr. Meadth

The students also took the chance to walk down the street and meet with Jon, the CEO of the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Jon showed the group through a typical low-income housing development, describing how successful applicants to the program provide their own “sweat equity” to help meet the cost of a new home. The students were also fascinated by the various technologies used to keep costs down during and after construction: special framing standards, highly insulated rooms, and solar panels.

The team stands with Jon from Habitat for Humanity on their
East Canon Perdido Street location

Back in the classroom, the challenge was issued: design a one-storey building in downtown Santa Barbara for a new Catholic homeless shelter. Constraints were described regarding occupancy, setbacks, and parking. Students were encouraged to consider how the architecture itself might support the intended mission. How can open, plant-filled community spaces promote mental health and serenity? How does a well-designed building give its occupants dignity?

Todd and Ava consider their various design elements, with Todd
on SketchUp and Ava drawing plans by hand

A typical day right now is humming with energy! Ben, Alena, Todd, Caleb, and Josh are hard at work creating CAD models in SketchUp (a free 3D tool used by many architects and product designers). Nolan, Madison, Ava, Peter, and Pedro are drawing scaled floor plans to match the CAD model. Armed with their wits and some architectural rulers, they are carefully tracking the details of corridor widths and parking space sizes. Sam is also building a physical model for his team out of balsa, foamboard, and other various materials. In total, five different designs are in production.

Ben and Nolan working hard to ensure the paper plans match
perfectly with the CAD model; their third teammate Sam (not
pictured) is working on the physical scale model

We’re extra grateful to Trinity from the Rescue Mission, who came by class this week to provide feedback to the student teams, one by one. Her advice was invaluable, as one who already knows firsthand the practical implications of the various design elements.

Pedro explains his floor plan to Trinity during class this week

The Providence Engineering Academy is asking the question: how can we bring our skills and knowledge to bear on a world full of problems and in need of the love of Christ? Through meeting with local homeless people, hearing from the ministries that serve them, and through technical training, we hope to ignite a skillful passion for the world around us.

Reach out to Rod Meadth for questions and comments. Don’t forget to share the word about our incredible summer camp, which also includes architectural themes: Robot City!

630 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, USA

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