Every major city has problems with homelessness. New York City, however, is one of the worst: the Coalition for the Homeless estimates that more than 61,000 people are sleeping in the city’s homeless shelters every night, with thousands more spending the nights on the streets, subways, or other public spaces. The problem is a complicated one with a number of causes, but a big part of it is that while New York City is filling up with housing, very little of that housing is affordable to low-income residents.
In earlier years, low-income housing was available in the form of single room occupancy, or SRO, units, which were small, affordable, single room spaces made for one or two people. In 1955, however, the housing code was changed to prohibit the conversion or construction of new SROs, and by the end of the 1970s there were very few of them left, leaving the city’s poorest citizens without options and thus swelling the homeless population. Now one company wants to bring back SROs, but with a modern, technological twist.
Framlab is a creative agency based out of New York City and Oslo. Its mission is to use creative design and technology to solve problems affecting the world currently and to build a better future. Its Homed project involves the creation of modular hexagonal pods to serve as shelter for the homeless. One of the issues in New York City in particular is that there is little room to build new architecture – and what space there is typically gets scooped up by businesses that don’t have low-income residents in mind. So Framlab began looking for empty space from a different angle, and found it in what it calls “vertical lots,” i.e. the sides of established buildings.
Those spaces, without windows or doors, are blank slates, to which Framlab intends to attach clusters of the hexagonal pods, which will feature aluminum exteriors with interiors 3D printed from recycled polycarbonate. 3D printing allows for flexible design possibilities that can be tailored to the resident’s desires in terms of layout, number of levels, etc. Each module will be closed off from the outside world by a layer of PMMA smart glass that can be used to transmit digital content such as artwork or advertising.
The 3D printed interior, which will be covered in wood laminate, can be constructed to incorporate things like furniture and lighting, so that very little is needed to be brought in from outside. The modules will be attached to scaffolding which will be erected on the side of the building, making them secure yet easily movable if needed. They’ll also be attached to each other, creating small communities.
Framlab makes it clear that this isn’t meant to be a permanent solution. Rather, it is a temporary way to provide homeless people with an alternative to the streets and to crowded, often unsafe shelters.
In the meantime, the larger, more systemic problems need to be addressed, like the fact that most of New York’s real estate development caters to the well-off and that low-income housing has become severely neglected. The problem is especially severe in New York City, but cities all around the world are having problems with a lack of low-income housing and resulting homelessness. Those cities all need to implement changes that will provide permanent housing options for low-income residents, but in the meantime, walls covered in livable 3D printed hexagons don’t sound like a bad temporary solution at all.
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