Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The tunnel people of Las Vegas

Deep beneath Vegas’s glittering lights lies a labyrinth inhabited by poisonous spiders and a man nicknamed The Troll who wields an iron bar. The 200 miles of flood tunnels are also home to 1,000 people who eke out a living in the strip’s dark underbelly. Read more
- from a Nov. 3, 2010 article in the Daily Mail.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Houses of Cardboard

From the most basic shelters built by the homeless to architecturally designed homes, cardboard is being used as a building material in clever ways. This is part 3 of a series on alternative housing.

Cardboard is commonly used to construct very temporary shelters by homeless people. It is free, provides shelter from the wind and sun, has some insulative value against cold, and provides privacy. A house of cardboard is often very temporary because it is not waterproof and can be easily knocked down by wind or other forces. At right is a picture of a large cardboard shelter in Haiti built after the devastating earthquake in early 2010.

These makeshift structures are held together with tape, cable ties, baling wire and whatever other fastening materials can be locally scrounged. Pull a plastic tarp over it to keep out the rain. Cardboard seems to be everywhere. In Haiti, the boxes that the relief aid comes in are being used to make shelters.

Some artists and architects have experimented with cardboard as a building material. Artist Nick Sayers created an art piece/shelter out of real estate signs. It is called "To Live." See a picture here. The photo at left doesn't show the scale. It is actually quite large and has a loft.
Colin James of Stutchbury and Pape architects has designed and built a cardboard shelter kit that is actually waterproof. The idea is that it could serve as temporary housing in various situations. Read more on this.
Here is a link to a great blog post on The Octagon, a cardboard emergency shelter used in Japan, where they have lots of earthquakes. The post shows it being set up.

Last but not least, you can make the walls of a house from baled cardboard waste. They use waxed cardboard for this. This type of cardboard is hard to recycle because of the wax coating. Used as a building material the wax renders the paper more waterproof. I imagine it has pretty good insulation properties, too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Shopping Cart is Home

This is the second post of a continuing story of non-traditional living situations. I started this series with my post, A Billion Squatters.

Homelessness has been rising since the 1970's. Several websites I looked at indicate that there are over 3 million homeless in the U.S. The shopping cart has become an iconic object for the urban homeless. It allows them to go from place to place with surprising amounts of stuff. They are easy to find and steal. The shopping cart person can put all their earthly belongings in it and then roll along searching for shelter, food, and whatever. Some of these people could give lessons in innovative loading and packing.

Because of the ubiquity of the shopping cart and its association with the homeless, some designers have come up with the "ultimate" shopping-cart-as-home. Of course, these newly designed carts aren't what a homeless person would find out in the wilds of the city. Some of these newer designs are purely artistic and design projects and others are intended to be given to the homeless for free (the only way they would take one, I'm sure). Donors pay for the carts and they are given away.

The most written about modern cart is the EDAR which is an acronym for Everyone Deserves A Roof. It is a specially designed cart that folds out into a bed with a tent attached to it. The project was started by Peter Samuelson who was amazed by how many homeless people he saw every day in Los Angeles, CA. Apparently L.A. has the most homeless people of any city in the country.  He got the Art Center College of Design to come up with an idea for a mobile living space for the homeless. There has been over 170 of them distributed to the homeless so far. It's not intended as a solution to homelessness, just something that could help these people a bit in the short term.

Another cart was created by designer Gregor Timlin. It converts into a shelter. .It was designed for a specific group of homeless that collect bottles or cans to recycle, thereby making some money. It's pretty cool looking.. The downside is you have to unload all your stuff in order to sleep in it.  I tried to go to his website,,  but it wouldn't load. See more pictures of the Shelter Cart.

I would guess that some of the people receiving one of these specialized carts might be suspicious of them. They are pretty cool - cool enough to steal. One of the advantages of a regular shopping cart is they are less likely to be stolen and, if someone's cart is stolen, easy to replace.

In 2006 European design ezine, Designboom, announced a contest to design a Shelter In A Cart. Some interesting designs came from that. Only a few of the designs did not require you to remove all your belongings before sleeping in them.

It's a sad state of affairs that there are so many homeless people in the U.S. They do what they have to to meet their basic needs and the shopping cart is one of the ways they do it.

Next report: Cardboard Houses. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Man Arrested at Large Hadron Collider Claims to be From the Future

 Check out this news article. My favorite line in the article:
"Mr Cole was taken to a secure mental health facility in Geneva but later disappeared from his cell. Police are baffled, but not that bothered."
Missed by most people who commented on the article was the fact that the article was dated April 1st. Wouldn't it be cool if it was true, though?

Friday, June 18, 2010

THis is just too perfect.

I cannot resist posting this link to a news article that is just too hilarious. Now that's performance art! German throws puppy at Hells Angels bikers then flees on bulldozer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Billion Squatters

I was browsing the web last night, looking for photos of the houses of the poorest of the poor. My thought was that these shacks, hovels, etc. might show unusual ingenuity in the use of found objects and unusual building materials. What was surprising, to me, is how many people live in shanty towns and other non-traditional housing situations. Robert Neuwirth stated, in his 2004 book, "Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World" that as many as a billion people live in situations other than owning or renting houses and apartments. That’s almost 1/7 the of the world’s population!

Most of these are squatters. They live, without permission, on public and private land worldwide. This includes the homeless, who sometimes build elaborate shelters out of cardboard and plastic, people who squat in vacant buildings, and the residents of giant shanty towns in Asia and Africa.

Most of these squatters live in the poorer countries but the United States also has its share. Small tent cities began appearing recently due to the economic downturn. Some Americans are nomadic, living in trailers and motor homes. Some squat in abandoned buildings. Some live, illegally, in their place of business. There is nothing here, though, on the scale of the shanty towns in Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro or some other large cities in the poorer countries.

I did find some wonderful examples of creative shack construction. As I suspected, people without much in the way of resources use their creativity to make homes out of whatever they can find. Unfortunately, they are largely unsafe, have no running water or sewage handling facilities, and most do not have electricity. People have to live somewhere, and for these people, this is the best they can do.

I plan to pursue the reporting of specific non-traditional living situations and will post my findings here soon.