Archive for the ‘videos’ Category

Michelle Kaufmann: An Architect Driving Change

Written by Lee Schneider | Director of SHELTER

Michelle Kaufmann is a pioneer in the prefab housing movement. You might think that happened because she started a factory to manufacture architect-designed homes, or because she has showcased full-sized replicas of her homes in prominent museums like the National Building Museum in Washington, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Those are big achievements and do identify her as an innovator and a culture shaker. But, for me, what makes her a pioneer and a leader is something else.

She is making sustainability not only a way to build, but also a state of mind.

“It’s not just looking at using eco materials and choosing production and systems that are energy efficient and can save water,” she said in interview. “It really goes beyond that by thinking about outdoor spaces as much as indoor spaces. It’s thinking about what makes a sustainable community that goes beyond the materials themselves. It’s about shared resources.”

This is a holistic view of architecture and design, and it makes good sense. No building exists by itself – there’s a relationship to the people who use it, to the land it is placed on, to the resources it uses.

She has a project going in Denver called aria that illustrates this. The construction is prefab, which means that much of the construction is happening off-site, in a factory, where the homes are put together in a modular fashion, then brought onto the site and completed there.

Construction is more efficient and green this way. The homes themselves use recycled materials and alternative energy sources like solar. The community features roadbed made from recycled concrete and water-conserving native plants. The design also calls for a community pavilion in which residents can learn about organic cooking, using food grown from the on-site garden.

“We’re thinking about things in a more holistic way.”
-Michelle Kaufmann

Over the course of her career, Michelle has championed the use of recyclable materials in the 53 green homes she has built. She’s corrected some assumptions along the way, too, such as the belief that a house made of recyclables would have to be made of old tires or that it wouldn’t be possible to take a hot shower while living in one. The homes she designs not only look good, but they make us feel good.

Early prefab homes designed by Michelle and others were expensive and one of a kind, but they established a necessary proof of concept. They showed clients it was possible to build green and make it beautiful. Today, the Denver site represents the next generation of prefab, as it mixes affordable and market rate housing. It’s not meant to be “one of a kind,” but to show that a design can be replicated at other sites, making it more accessible. This can be a path to healthier buildings, a path to architecture that is part of an ecosystem and a path to change.

Architects can drive change, but I think we have to rethink ourselves and our role as architects.”

While the world celebrates star architects like Frank Gehry, it’s been useful for me to remember that architecture is for the most part a conservative profession. Innovators like Michelle Kaufmann (and Gehry) are rare. Michelle told me during our interview that fewer than three percent of homes are actually designed by architects – most are done by builders, but builders are not trained to innovate,  instead simply to execute. But now we are at the start of a new chapter, one that features collaboration as a critical tool for success. Michelle cited the Open Architecture network as an example of this. It makes design open and free, and promotes designs that conserve both water and energy. It’s a part of the holistic view of architecture bringing us better homes and better communities.

“We are in a very interesting time. our values system is now shifting more towards community, but also community in our businesses. We’re collaborating, and that’s where real change is happening,” Michelle said.

To learn more about her latest projects, check out her website.

This interview was made possible with the generous participation of one of our valued sponsors, Zipcar.

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Written by Lee Schneider

There’s a workshop in Orange, CA where Airstream trailers go to be reborn. They have put in thousands of miles, witnessed the magic of mountains and deserts, and still they’re ready for more of life’s highway.

“We’re taking something that is unique in this RV world and bringing it back to life,”  said Uwe Salwender of Area 63 Productions. He restores Airstream trailers. “There’s a lot of aluminum on these and they last a very long time. I’ve seen trailers that are 50 years old and they’re still fully functional. You could move into one of those and live full time.“ He lives in one full time with his wife.

“I myself feel very, very comfortable having a sizable airstream in my possession. I know that no matter what happens I always have a home, and a comfortable one and a stylish one. I would not hurt for the beautiful house I left, because my airstream is just as beautiful but in a different way.”

Depending on the intensity of the job, a restoration by Uwe Salwender can take from six weeks to a year and a half. Here’s short video about what he does.

Uwe Salwender entered the Airstream life while on a vacation trip to Mexico, at the Sea of Cortez. “We started wild camping down there out of a van and a jeep,” he said. The camping was wild, but it “became kind of eh, you know, wind and weather and other influences, animals and snakes and things that we’re not that fond of.”

Nevertheless, he was overpowered by the beauty of the place, and drawn into a connection with the land he felt while living in an old Airstream he had bought. It was a time capsule, flimsy, with an ugly interior, but beautiful in its Airstream way. So beautiful, he couldn’t make himself tear it apart to fix it, so he sold it, bought another, fixed that one, and then friends started to learn about what he was doing.

“I wouldn’t do it publicly for a long time. I wanted for it to sort of remain a hobby.” But five years ago, when the economy started to dip, the volume was turned down on his old job which involved making high-end audio prototypes, amplifiers and stage systems for touring rock bands, and the volume was turned way up on his Airstream restoration business. It was an easy transition to switch over to restoration full time, he said, because building audio prototypes made him familiar with aluminum extrusions and working with wood. Working with the idiosyncrasies of rock musicians simply transformed into working with the idiosyncrasies of Airstream design.

“My favorites are from the forties to the mid 1960s. Much newer and they’re not as rewarding I should say.”
-Uwe Salwender

Salwender believes the Airstream offers a more grounded way to travel, helping people connect with themselves, and as proof he offers a few stories. He’s found that clients who may argue a lot with their spouses seem to calm down in their Airstream. People ask for built in big screen TV entertainment centers “because they can’t miss their USC games.” But sometimes he gently suggests they forgo the TV and go for a walk outside or try starting a conversation with other people at the campsite. He’ll put in the flat screen if you really want it, and hook it up to satellite TV. You can also get solar panels so you can stay off the grid, and a high-end kitchen so you can make more than just soup – a soufflé would work fine in an Airstream.

Jennifer Siegal is an architect whose company is called the Office of Mobile Design. She’s in favor of smaller and more portable forms of housing. What if when you moved, you didn’t need to build a new house but instead took the old one with you? In an interview for SHELTER she talked about how smaller living spaces helped clients simplify their lives.

Today’s revolution of “smaller is better” and putting a house on wheels is really more of an evolution unfolding over decades. Architectural history geeks usually acknowledge Jean Prouve as the founding father of the pre-fab metal home, as he used a workshop approach to create designs that could be mass produced. The “home on wheels” was popularized by founder of the Airstream company, Wally Byam. He bought what would become the Airstream design from an engineer and aircraft builder named William Hawley Bowlus. Byam marketed the design so effectively, Airstream owners felt they weren’t just buying a recreational vehicle, they were buying into a movement. They were free to see the country in their silvery orbs, to do some creative drifting, to experience life unfiltered and seek out the community of fellow free spirits. The early Airstream designs had an industrial Bauhaus sleekness, joining the parade of industrial objects that make up the magic American age of pop design. Airstreams live long and go deep.

“It’s an iconic thing like Harley Davidson, and maybe ’57 Chevy, Buick’s Roadmaster, you know, Zippo lighters. There’s a number of American things that just won’t go away no matter what, right? And I think this is one of them,” Salwender said.

Photo Credit: Airstream by the ocean by Prawnpie via Flickr. Creative Commons License. Shop photos and portraits by Lee Schneider. Interior Airstream renovation images by Uwe Salwender. Music courtesy Mark Radcliffe. Road footage courtesy DocuCinema.

Public Architecture Videocast

Public Architecture has posted its first Videocast.  It’s a great overview of what they do and you get a tour of their offices, too.  Check it out.

Citizen Architect

“Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio” is a film that gets into what the value of good architecture might be, both for the architect and for the person who lives in the building. The film, which is coming to PBS, is about Samuel Mockbee and his vision of an architecture for everyone. Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity has a few words in the clip in favor of design for everyone, and Peter Eisenman of Yale says the role of architecture is not to save the world but instead to challenge us. Read more about films like this at Good.

The Best Design for a Sense of Place: EDAR

Written by Lee Schneider, director of SHELTER

Peter Samuelson likes to tinker with the things that scare or bother him. He’s found that sometimes walking up to your fears and having a chat with them can change many things in the world, and not just yourself.

Samuelson is a film producer and philanthropist who founded three major children’s philanthropies: the Starlight Children’s Foundation in 1982 to assist seriously ill children, the Starbright Foundation in 1990 to continue that work, and First Star in 1999 to benefit abused and neglected children. He credits his parents for instilling in him a sense of doing social good. But the entrepreneurial drive comes from being a film producer.

“You get very good as a film producer at fixing things … what a film producer does, is that every six or nine or twelve months, you are in some place you’ve never been to before, with a group of people you mostly don’t know, with a brand new script and you’re working out, What does this mean? How do we do this? How can we afford this? What is the solution to this? You get undaunted.”

He’s made films as varied as Revenge of the Nerds, The Libertine with Johnny Depp and John Malkovich, and Tom & Viv with Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson. But it was his sense of observation that led to the birth of something called the EDAR. It came about because he rides his bike on weekend mornings and started to notice that there were more homeless persons than before. “One of the things that has worked really well for me, that has its amusing side, is that if I’m a little bit scared of something I make myself do it.” He decided he would do interviews with the homeless people he encountered on his bike rides.

Samuelson interviewed 62 homeless persons and asked them two broad groups of questions: “How do you get money, and where do you sleep?” He learned that money came from recycling and sometimes panhandling. He also learned that their sleeping conditions were pretty rough. One day he had an epiphany when, near where he lived, he met a woman who was sleeping in a refrigerator box. The brand of refrigerator was the same kind as the one in his kitchen. The meeting started the philanthropist in him working, as well as the designer and the mathematician.

Click to hear a short clip of Peter telling the story.

“In the County of LA there are about 72,000 homeless people, and there are 12,400 beds in shelters. Building a shelter is at a marginal cost of about $50,000 per bed generated. So if you want a building with a hundred beds it’s about a five million dollar building. So if you run the math, $50,000 times 60,000, that’s three billion dollars, and I have no clue how you raise three billion dollars.”

He realized that the solution had to be cheap, better than a tent, and have wheels. It should have pockets so you could put recycling in it, and at night it better have brakes so you could park it and turn it into a bed. He also realized that it had to have windows, “so that you can keep an eye on what’s going on outside. That was as far as I got” on the EDAR concept.

Samuelson called a meeting with the dean of the Pasadena Art Center College of Design and asked him, “Have you ever had a competition for something non-profit?” They put together a contest, which Samuelson sponsored, to find the best design for a mobile shelter. Through the competition Peter met designers Eric Lindeman and Jason Zasa, who helped create what would become the EDAR. With wire design and fabrication provided by John Ondrasic and Mike Orozco of Precision Wire Inc., they went through about seven prototypes.

Click to hear Peter tell the story of how they tested the EDAR.

It costs a little under $500 to make an EDAR and they are given out free of charge. Each time Samuelson’s group receives another $500 in donations, they put it toward making another EDAR. Says Samuelson, “It’s the most blessedly simple thing that I’ve ever done philanthropically.”

Currently, there are 200 EDARs deployed in Los Angeles, Denver, Colorado Springs, Phoenix and Camden. NJ.  Julie Yurth Himot, the EDAR Program Coordinator, took me down to the Midnight Mission on Skid Row in Los Angeles to meet a few people who are living in EDARs now.

Pops got one of the first EDARs and his only suggestion is that it needed stronger zippers. Julie promised him one of the newer models on which that design modification has been made. When I asked, Pops told me that he came to Los Angeles twenty years ago from North Carolina. He was skilled at installing flooring, tile and carpet and wanted to retire in Southern California. But things didn’t go as planned and he’s been at the Midnight Mission for a few years now.

Brenda likes the shelter of the courtyard at the Midnight Mission, particularly when she has an EDAR to grant her privacy. She also likes that it has windows. “You can see the planes go by, you can see the thunder and the lightning. You can see anything, cloudy days, sunny days, you can see anything. This is scenery.”

For more information about the EDAR, check out The EDAR has also been written up in Architecture Week, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sacramento Homeless blog.


Video by Corina Gamma

Through photography and filmmaking, Corina Gamma explores the many concepts of home. She conceptualizes home as not only a physical condition, but also as a state of mind. In her film documentary Ties on a Fence Corina Gamma captures the disenfranchised women of Skid Row in Los Angeles, their daily experiences and everyday struggles. Many of the interviews are articulated through conversations, poetry, and photographs taken by the women. “Ties on a Fence” was featured in nine film festivals nationwide and won awards for best documentary at the Black Earth Film Festival and also at the Santa Clarita Film Festival. Corina edited a special sequence from the film for us to present to you on SHELTER.

Only six city blocks from the financial district of downtown Los Angeles is “Skid Row,” an area with a large concentration of missions and shelters, which makes it the largest emergency-service dependent community in the United States. These services keep the homeless in a very isolated area.  This is the area Corina focuses on in her film. Some estimates have it that 35 to 45 percent of homeless people in Los Angeles County are women. “Ties on a Fence” was facilitated by the Downtown Women’s Center.

Upward Bound House Family Shelter

Written by Lee Schneider, director of SHELTER

Image courtesy Vanos Architects

The power was off during the grand opening of Upward Bound House’s new Family Shelter, but there was a lot of daylight in the eighteen brand-new rooms. And, as though to compensate for the lack of electricity, while on a walk-through to meet the designers of each room, a visitor could feel the buzzing energy of community and of creativity.

The idea for Family Shelter was simple enough. Upward Bound House, a Santa Monica-based agency, is experienced in providing transitional housing for homeless families with children. They have a 21-unit facility in Santa Monica that helps homeless families get back on their feet. The families can stay there for as long as a year. The success rate for those families later obtaining and keeping permanent housing? Ninety-five percent, according to Upward Bound’s numbers.

Sounds good. But could you achieve similar success over a 90-day period instead of a year? Upward Bound has “beta tested” that idea already, by giving families in need of housing special vouchers to live in motels for 90 days until they get their lives together. Living in motels, though, doesn’t always address a family’s need for counseling and support. Upward Bound specializes in supported housing – you get a roof over your head, but you also get case workers checking in on you to see if you’re stable and thriving. The motel plan was a good beta test but it wasn’t the perfect path to a comprehensive plan to address family needs. There had to be a better way.

Well, why not buy a motel, redesign it from the outside in and start a new Family Shelter in Culver City? That’s exactly what Upward Bound did. The Family Shelter grand opening happened last month and attracted a crowd of social activists and politicos and some of LA’s best-known designers. Take a look at this short video to hear the designers speak about the experience in their own words. Each of the eighteen rooms was designed by a different designer with a singular vision.

The event was inspiring, but now it’s down to business, finishing up the exterior of the building, and settling the eighteen families into Family Shelter for the first 90-day cycle. Upward Bound has a screening process to pick the right families. “We work with partner agencies, like Beyond Shelter and St. Joseph Center. Case managers with those organizations know about Upward Bound and they refer people to us,” says David Snow, executive director of Upward Bound House. After the initial referrals, Upward Bound does another level of candidate screening to insure a good fit. To get into Family Shelter you have to have a job and be free of substance abuse issues or receiving counseling.

“The people we serve have the fundamentals. They need a safe place where they can recover. These are families with kids. They are not looking for a hand out. They want their own home. That’s who we serve best.”
— David Snow, Upward Bound House

Children, as David Snow has found with Upward Bound, can be the innocent victims of misfortune or bad decisions made by their parents. “For us it’s about kids. We are geared toward the kids in family dynamics. We offer parenting management and anger management to help with kids going through crisis. We offer tutoring and mentoring, arts programs and enrichment programs. Not many programs out there focus on kids.”

Focusing on kids makes economic sense. Truancy, public health services and incarceration can make for a big bill for all to pay. Catch problems early, it’s a good deal for society. “Wait until later, and you’ve got bigger problems,” says Snow.

Snow sees an opportunity for Upward Bound to provide more emergency and transitional services. These services, he says, are the missing link to families receiving permanent housing. He’s looking at partnering Upward Bound with developers or buying existing facilities to get that going. Upward Bound should find a welcome reception – its facilities look like high-end town homes or apartments.

The grand opening of Upward Bound’s Family Shelter received good coverage in inhabitat and the Los Angeles Times L.A. at Home blog. You can follow along on new developments on the Turquoise blog.

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Slide Show Media: Mike at River Haven

River Haven is a transitional community for people dealing with the issues of homelessness. Last September, World Shelters and The Turning Point Foundation teamed up with hundreds of volunteers to revitalize River Haven, which was previously functioning as a tent city encampment. The volunteers installed 19 geodesic structures called U-Domes, and later on others came by to improve the landscaping, provide beds, gas grills, a refrigerator, and offer other aspects of shelter many of us might take for granted. This is the first in what we intend to be a series of profile pieces about people who are living at River Haven and in other communities.

Want to stay informed about innovative architectural and design solutions that address homelessness? Sign up here to subscribe to SHELTER.


When World Shelters and The Turning Point Foundation teamed up last September to revitalize the River Haven community we were there to capture the moment.  Several hundred volunteers came together to build nineteen structures.  Here’s a look at that happened on the build day.  The clip is longer than those we’ve shown elsewhere, and at the end there’s a link to the Vimeo website, where it can be seen in HD.  Let us know what you think!