As Occupy Wall Street (OWS) persists into the growing colder nights, I have been wondering when architects would become more involved with efforts to shelter protestors. I am excited to see the results of Storefront for Art and Architecture’s recent call for ideas, Strategies for Public Occupation, which has a 12.01.11 deadline, although there is no promise that the winning entry will actually be constructed. This seems like a perfect exercise for designers at all experience levels, and a great opportunity for experimentation with new materials and ideas.
The one blog that I found dedicated to sheltering protestors is the recently launched “alt shelter.” On this site, bloggers suggest using foam insulation, military tents, and storage crates. One proposal elevates a small structure on crates to maximize storage and provides vent holes to minimize water condensation. Pods are lined next to each other in another proposal, similar to a row of sleeping bags. One post describes principles of snow huts (or quinzees) to provide warmth from the cold. Although I do not believe that this website is run by architects, it is the only one I have found that describes feasible and achievable construction methods.
There are a number of existing temporary shelter strategies — often used in disaster relief efforts or to develop refugee camps, for example. But I think that OWS is a unique opportunity for Lower Manhattan to become a test bed for architectural exploration. If a shelter is unsuccessful, there are resources available to fine-tune or alter designs according to various needs. If one idea fails, there is still time to make adjustments before the freezing weather kicks in. We may be experiencing an economic crisis, but this is a flush time for creativity. I hope to see new ideas flourish that could be similarly implemented in other locations throughout the world.