With three HD cameras rolling and a still camera shooting time lapse images we witnessed something remarkable through our viewfinders.
At the River Haven homeless encampment in Ventura, California, we saw nineteen new homes constructed in just one day. The homes are called U-Domes, a product of World Shelters. They are weather worthy, rated to withstand 80 mph winds, fire-retardant, and fully recyclable. They have locking doors, windows and vents.
We’re putting all the material filmed on the construction day into our edit system in San Francisco. Our Los Angeles edit system is handling the timelapse sequences. We hope to have some previews of the timelapse materials up on this site soon. It's all part of our documentary called SHELTER.
There has been a little drama while building this village. High winds blew some of the structures off their platforms before they could be properly anchored. The platforms had to be rebuilt because of a design problem. But by Thursday a small crew of workers hopes to finish fixing the platforms, with a move in scheduled next week for twenty five River Haven residents.
Mark Michaels, a resident of River Haven who helps oversee the community, told us that the residents were really looking forward to taking occupancy, now that winter weather is on the way. “We can get some heavy rains here,” he said. “The whole area can turn into a lake.” But with the U-Domes sturdily perched on their wooden platforms, River Haven residents can stay warm and dry. There are six of U-Domes with 200 square feet of space for couples and 13 U-Domes with 120 square feet for singles.
Do projects like this represent the future of pre-fab used in emergency relief situations? Bruce LeBel of World Shelters will find out. In the coming weeks, he will be working with county and city governments to get approval for similar U-Dome installations elsewhere in California. There’s a lot of red tape to cut through and a lot of NIMBY – “Not In My Backyard.” But as Steven Elias, a friend of World Shelters, explained, while a 250-person homeless shelter might meet with resistance in some communities, small twenty five-person communities might answer the needs of the homeless without having a large footprint.
According to the Ventura County 2009 Homeless Count, there are 2,193 homeless people in Ventura County, counting 361 children. 161 families are homeless.
Certainly there’s a need to shelter the homeless, and pre-fab structures like U-Domes could help. Yet U-Domes are just one form of pre-fab. Generally speaking, pre-fabricated manufacturing is a method of constructing homes using manufactured sections that are assembled on site. This method can be “greener” than traditional construction methods because fabrication is centralized and homes can go up more quickly. This brings another advantage - pre-fab can cost less than conventional building.
Companies like LivingHomes offer high-end pre-fab homes. Jennifer Siegal, founder of the Office of Mobile Design, (OMD) has pioneered the construction of prefabricated homes, schools and other buildings. Ms. Siegal is a big fan of portable architecture – like the classic Airstream trailer.
But high-end pre-fab hasn’t always found an audience. One pre-fab pioneer, Michelle Kaufmann, closed her Oakland, California company MK Designs this past May, citing the bad economy and withering housing market. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Blu Homes, of Boston, MA, purchased the rights to build Kaufmann's preconfigured designs.
Still, what often comes out of pre-fab projects, even the expensive ones, are "ideas, experimental materials, assembly methods, and good design--which can often translate into lower costs for all housing," including homes for the homeless, says Richard Neill, director of photography on SHELTER and an executive producer on the project.
Could be that companies like World Shelters, and groups like Architecture for Humanity are looking into the robust future of pre-fab by focusing on disaster relief, temporary housing and housing for the homeless. We’re going to tell their story in SHELTER. Look for production updates here.
Thanks to Panasonic for donating the use of one of the world’s most advanced 1080P HD cameras--Panasonic's P2 HD Cinema VariCam, and also thanks to Marshall Thompson for additional cinematography.
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