Archive for the ‘docucinema’ Tag

Airstream

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.

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SWEEP

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.

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.

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SHELTER Video

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!

The River Haven Community

mike-4750Written by Lee Schneider, director of the film SHELTER.

I didn’t know you could play a Celine Dion CD off a car battery. But Mike Casper has figured out a way to do it. He’s one of twenty or so residents of River Haven, a transitional encampment in Ventura County, California.  River Haven has been around for four years, but recently Mike was among those who helped radically change it.

At the end of September, several hundred volunteers came to River Haven for a day, erected 19 pre-fabricated U-Dome residences from World Shelters, then had some pizza for lunch and moved on. Of course, the job wasn’t over. Some people had to come back to rebuild the platforms on which the dome homes rested. Others brought flowers and resealed doors and caulked leaks. The U-Domes experience shows that you can get pretty close to building a village in a day, but it takes a longer commitment to make the village work for the residents.

mike-4743Mike Casper has seen the “old” River Haven when it was just a tent city, a sea of mud and leaky canvas, and he helped put up the new River Haven, which looks something like a space village, particularly at night, when the interiors of the domes are lighted from within. Mike has refurbished a couple of propane grills for cooking, fired up the Honda generator to put a charge on the 12-volt car batteries that power his and other residents’ DVD/CD players, and has even found some time for filing. That’s right, filing.  “Somebody donated these filing cabinets. I’ve been putting our stuff in them,” he said. The idea amuses him. But he likes to keep busy.

Before he lost his house, Mike told me, he was a building contractor with a Beverly Hills clientele. Working with his hands comes naturally to him.

He’s put his skills to work at River Haven, contributing to the community.  Corliss Porter, the Clinical Director at Turning Point Foundation, was the project coordinator on the one-day U-Dome installation, and she’s a key player in the ongoing administration of River Haven. She spent two rainy nights in a River Haven dome and found it pretty comfortable. “One little kerosene lantern warmed the place up even with wind,” she said. But she’s also spent more than two decades managing psychosocial rehabilitation services. The question that’s occupied her all those years is this: “How do you create a sane community to support personal growth?”

Personal growth comes, she’s found, when external structures are in place. “If the external structure is clear and fair, above all fair, that affects how people start working on their internal chaos.”

reportcards-4780A resident has found that if you hang up a few mementos, like your old grade school report cards, a dome can  feel like home.

Put any of us out on the street, Corliss explained, and in two weeks or less our thinking becomes minute-to-minute. How do I get warm? Where do I go to the bathroom? Where’s my next meal coming from? “People on the street have a basic form of PTSD. [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Some of them more, some of them less.”

In that situation, you don’t make decisions coming from your best emotional state. You can’t focus on the problem – it simply overwhelms you. But with some structure and a sense of community such as River Haven provides, you have a shot at staying focused, at transitioning, at beginning to heal.

Last year at River Haven, they started doing peer mediation training for residents. “It altered the community,” Corliss said. “It shifted the way they attended to the problems and the community came along with it.”

River Haven residents pay $250 monthly rent. They have to stay clean and sober, participate in community meetings, and keep looking for work. Finding work – tough in this economic climate. “A lot of people are out of work these days,” Mike Casper told me. He’s keeping busy. There’s still a lot to do at River Haven, now that the new refrigerator that runs on propane has been donated.

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Lee Schneider is the founder of DocuCinema, a media production company based in Los Angeles.  Partnered with Adventure Picures, the company is producing the movie SHELTER.

shelter-4732If you enjoyed this post, why not Subscribe to SHELTER in your favorite reader?

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A Village in One Day

With three HD cameras rolling and a still camera shooting time lapse images we witnessed something remarkable through our viewfinders.

River Haven U-Domes _Panorama _6

photo courtesy Bruce LeBel

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.

447521606_8d24a21a5e

photo from Florian via Flickr

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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This is the ongoing  blog of SHELTER, a movie about innovative solutions to provide housing for everyone.   The film examines everyone’s right to a roof over their head and focuses on inventive methods of building as advanced by such architects as Jennifer Siegal, Whitney Sander, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, design innovators like Buckminster Fuller and activists like Bruce LeBel of World Shelters.  SHELTER is a production of DocuCinema and Adventure Pictures.  Its executive producers are Lee Schneider and Richard Neill.

River Haven and U-Domes

Written by Lee Schneider

Is it possible to construct a village of new homes in a day, providing much needed housing for the homeless in Ventura County, California?  The answer is yes if you have a few hundred volunteers, two battalions of Navy Sea-Bees,  an innovative design for geodesic domes and some vision.

buckyHandThe innovative dome design comes from an American original named R. Buckminster Fuller.  The vision comes from Bruce LeBel of World Shelters and Clyde Reynolds of the Turning Point Foundation.  Clyde, the foundation’s executive director, heads up a program serving more than 500 clients in Ventura County each year through its shelter rehabilitation programs. Clyde hired Bruce’s company, World Shelters, to do something amazing: create housing for the homeless in just one day. Bruce, once a student of Buckminster Fuller, was ready for the challenge.  Why?  Not only did Buckminster Fuller advance the concept of a dome as a multi-use building, but Fuller also believed in a passionate and committed form of architecture that would help citizens of Earth survive and prosper.  He saw his life as an experiment into “what, if anything,” an individual could do “on behalf of all humanity.”

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known.  Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980

Bucky, as he was known, inspired Bruce LeBel to use the dome design to provide emergency housing all over the world.  We’re making a film about pre-fab architecture for the very poor and the very rich called SHELTER.  One of Bruce’s projects we’re following happened over the weekend, at an encampment for the homeless called River Haven, in Ventura.  Winter is coming, and that means heavy rains and some heavy weather.  The homeless people who lived here were camped in tents that were showing their age over the four years this settlement has been in existence. Domes would provide warmth, strength, and security.

The domes at River Haven, called U-Domes, are the result of years of research at World Shelters. Bruce was once an engineer at The North Face, the outdoor equipment company whose tents utilized Fuller’s principle of tensegrity.  Tensegrity is a synergy of materials achieved by a balance of tension and compression in their components.  U-Domes are designed to ship easily and go up fast.

buildingadomePutting one of World Shelter’s U-Domes together looks complicated – it’s something like wrestling with really big origami – but it can be done by volunteers with little or no training.   It’s one way you can get a village standing in a day. The domes that went up this weekend are strong, light and portable – built to withstand 80 mph winds and last for ten years.  Those who contributed to the project included members of two battalions of  Navy Sea-Bees, some of whom had just returned from deployment in Afghanistan. SHELTER_river-3831 They put down sixteen wooden pads on gravel that provide steady grounding and support for the domes.  Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s daughter, stopped by to support the effort and fill us in on her father.  She gave us an interview connecting the vision of her dad with the applications Bruce has been seeking for his domes.  We hope Bucky Fuller will be the spiritual father of our film.

Shelter-4701Cheryl Deay of the United Way was heading up some of of the volunteers on site. She told us that 70% of the homeless population are working and struggling to get out of homelessness.  For the most part they keep a low profile.  “For every homeless person you see there are eight more that you don’t see.”  She explained that you may see the men on the street, but the women and children and families are hidden away.

SHELTER will follow this and some other projects Bruce has going and will also track pre-fab housing projects for the very rich.  We’ve completed interviews with Jennifer Siegal of the Office of Mobile Design and have met with two more pre-fab architecture powerhouses, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, to speak with them about being in the film.

Shelter-domepano1

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This is the ongoing production blog of SHELTER.  The film examines everyone’s right to a roof over their head and focuses on pre-fab methods of building as advanced by such architects as Jennifer Siegal, Whitney Sander, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, design innovators like Buckminster Fuller and activists like Bruce LeBel of World Shelters.  SHELTER is a production of DocuCinema and Adventure Pictures.  Its executive producers are Lee Schneider and Richard Neill.

Survey Day

SHELTER_river-3745Today we had a look around the River Haven site. This is a homeless encampment in Ventura, California that has been in existence for four years.  For four years it has been a tent community, the only self-governing homeless camp in Ventura County.  With winter on the way, it’s getting an overhaul — with pre-fab shelters called U-Domes.SHELTER_river-3740

World Shelters and the Turning Point Foundation have teamed to create  housing for 25 individuals. In the place of the tents will be six 200 square foot U-Domes and 13 120-square foot U-Domes on wooden platforms. The structures have locking doors, windows and vents. The U-Domes are pre-fab structures, and tomorrow morning they will be part of an amazing experiment.  Several hundred volunteers will arrive to set them up.  The catch?  They will be learning “on the job.” Bruce LeBel, who heads up World Shelters, wants to see if its possible for volunteers to create a community in a day.

“I expect that if we have 100 people in six hours we will get through it. Can U-Domes be erected by unskilled people?  We’ll see!  That’s our experiment.”  — Bruce LeBel

SHELTER_river-3853Early this morning, Navy Sea-bees were prepping the pads for the U-Domes.  It was quiet  – just the sound of conversation, power drills and teamwork.  Commander Williamson told us that there were two Sea-bee battalions at work  – all volunteering their time.  Some had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Still, they pitched in.  They expected to stay “until the job was done.”