Designs for the homeless

Posted on January 16, 2016 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

In my last entry, I focused on the growing issue of homelessness in London, now I want to examine the solutions designers have come up with to tackle this issue.

Last year, London architectural designer James Furzer's ‘Home for the Homeless’ project won the top prize in FAKRO's International Design Competition.

Furzer has designed a series of off-the-ground sleeping pods that can be attached to any building with the help of two steel frames. The 6m2 timber shelters can be accessed via a ladder, and are positioned high enough off the ground to provide clearance beneath for pedestrians walking along the pavements. Each pod contains fold-away seating and a sleeping platform and Furzer hopes a homeless charity would take over the management of them.



Furzer's Home for the Homeless


Unfortunately, the designer's crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo did not reach the £7000 target, so it is unclear whether these pods will actually be made or not. Although the well-meaning project's idea is intriguing, I found some fundamental problems with the project:

1. How likely are London's landlords going to allow these pods to be attached to their walls? And do they need planning permission from the council? Will shop owners or residents tolerate having these pods outside of their homes or shops?

2. Sanitation facilities seem to be missing here, so I am not sure what the state of the pods will be like the day after.

3. There are many rough sleepers who have issues with being alone and staying in a confined space, this is also one of the reasons why they don't stay in night shelters even when there is space available.

4. It is also likely that some drug users will turn the pods into a drug den. Is there a way to prevent this from happening?

I don't want to scrutinise the project too much, but I think it will difficult for the project to work in reality because many practical issues have been overlooked.


Homeless-shelters_James-Furzer Homeless-shelters_James-Furzer

Visualisations are by James Furzer


A more practical shelter solution was launched in 2013 by IKEA Foundation. The foundation has worked with UNHCR and a group of Swedish designers to develop a new kind of temporary shelter that will provide refugees a new kind of temporary shelter. Better Shelter is a flat pack solution for a new, safer and more durable shelter for refugee families. The solar-powered shelter is made out of strong, light-weight stainless steel and is expected to last for 3 years. The prototype has been tested and improved by 40 refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia, and UNHCR has already ordered 10.000 of them.

Now not only our homes are filled with Ikea furniture, but the refugees will also be using their shelters! Ikea is undoubtedly conquering the world!


better shelter

Photo from Better Shelter


At the Dutch design week last year, Dutch fashion designer Bas Timmer and his business partner Alexander de Groot presented the sheltersuit, a wind and waterproof jacket/sleeping bag for homeless people made from used abandoned tents from vacated music festival sites. The suits are manufactured in Timmer's own studio in Enschede, in partnership with Syrian volunteers – many of whom are professional tailors. And in return the volunteers are offered assimilation courses, Dutch driving lessons and assistance with finding places to live.

The founders now run a foundation to ensure the creation of the suits. The purpose is to produce and distribute as many suits for the homeless who are sleeping outside during extreme cold weather.

Hiring Syrian workers and the upcycling abandoned tents are the two factors that make this project stand out. Although it doesn't solve the problem of homelessness, it acts as a temporary solution especially if the suits can be distributed to refugee camps in the winter.



Photos from What Design Can Do


Here are only a few examples of what designers have come with to tackle the problem, and I am sure there are a lot more on the list. My concern is that sometimes designers and architects are not thinking from the homeless people's point of view. They are imagining the needs of the homeless without enough research and understanding. If designers really want to know what homeless people need, then they have to talk to them, spend time with them or even try sleeping rough themselves, then they are more likely to come up with better design solutions.


This post was posted in Architecture, British design, Social issues, Design, Homelessness and was tagged with architecture, British design, homelessness, Dutch design