As you walk the streets of downtown Portland, you might notice a number of homeless teens. When life takes a turn for the worst as a teenager, it’s crucial to know where to go to receive support. Portland Oregon and West Hollywood are attractive locations for homeless teens due to the premiere teen support programs available there. Recently a group of student designers, a foundation, and a university decided to take the West Coast homeless teen story a bit further.
Homeless teens and fitting in
Reasons for teen homelessness vary. One common reason for leaving home is the feeling of being an outsider. Enter Outside In, Portland’s nationally recognized teen shelter. Outside In brings teens together in a safe environment so that they can literally and emotionally begin to build the feeling of home and belonging from the outside, in.
Recently Outside In partnered with Portland State University's (PSU’s) Department of Architecture to rethink shelter for homeless teens. This included social systems and design thinking for homeless youth—systems that were born out of conversations and collaborations with designers, the teens themselves, and those who help the teens solve problems in their lives on a daily basis.
An exhibit inspires: collaborative design with the other 90 percent
It is hard to capture all of the contributors in a complex collaboration that addresses difficult issues. PSU Professor Sergio Palleroni, known for his sustainable architecture work with PSU’s premiere program and for his Basic Initiative design projects, recently combined forces with influential collaborators, including Portland’s Mercy Corps, the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft, and the Smithsonian National Design Museum Cooper-Hewitt in New York. Together they drove a comprehensive second iteration of an exhibit called “Design with the Other 90%: CITIES,” which shared 60 urban solutions for people living in temporary settlements across the globe. This exhibit, shown recently in Portland, became the perfect ignition and collaborative inspiration for the Portland Teen Homelessness project—it illuminated new ideas used by other shelter projects and provided a focal point for the project as it developed. Palleroni stood at the fulcrum several times, simultaneously developing content for the exhibit and helping students develop their own solutions separately.
Producing nine potential kick-off solutions
Palleroni, along with another professor, Teddy Cruz, supported their PSU Master of Architecture Design students through the completion of nine well-thought-out solutions addressing teen homelessness.
Each proposal stands as a shelter “organism” that connects kids to their street families or social tribes of support. Each focuses on both creating stability for homeless youth who are uncomfortable with society and improving communication with a society that is uncomfortable with homelessness. The shelters stand as social systems designed to connect the teens physically and emotionally, literally and figuratively, through open spaces and points of intersection where they can gather together and feel safe. As part of the next phase of the project, the students are seeking feedback from the Portland community.
Ultimately what I like about this entire project is the move in design toward collaboration. Product design is shifting from self-reference and showcasing design trends of the past to social solutions arrived at through community and design collaboration. We are seeing this design trend emerge inside companies, among entrepreneurs, and in design school curriculums.
Opening the invitation to the Portland community
In the initial public presentation of the nine designs Palleroni said, “We plan to continue this public design process over the next year with open public design charrettes and workshops. After this public input, our goal is seeing some of these ideas generated in the studio and beyond.”
The presentation ended on an interesting note. Peter Schoonmaker, who started and who runs Portland’s Pacific NW College of Art’s MFA in Collaborative Design, shared a student project called Blight. This Dwell magazine-like project illuminates something we typically don’t want to look at—homelessness—in beautiful form.
See several of the design concepts here. Concepts created by PSU Master of Architecture students under the tutelage of Professor of Architecture Sergio Palleroni and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Cross-Cultural Architecture Teddy Cruz, Winter 2012.