Haven After a Hurricane: Baylor Students Will Design a 400-square-foot Dwelling in National Competition

hurricane haven
Baylor students will design "hurricane haven" for national contest. (iStockphoto)
Oct. 22, 2012

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (Oct. 22, 2012) - After a devastating natural disaster destroys their houses, people need a place to call home - however briefly -- while they begin to sort through problems ranging from a lack of drinking water to hunger to shattered nerves.

Enter Baylor University interior design students, with a helping hand from other students and faculty from such diverse disciplines as psychology, engineering, and film and digital media. They will design a tiny dwelling -- no more than 400 square feet - for a family of four.

The design will be entered in a national contest sponsored by the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) and Florida International University's Department of Interior Architecture. An "interest meeting" for those who wish to be involved will be held on Oct. 24, and students will huddle for an intensive, high-speed design collaboration Nov. 9-10 in The Social Design Summit: Designing for Disaster Relief Temporary Housing.

"We've never done anything like this project. It's very schematic, all-encompassing, and it engages so many of Baylor's Pro Futuris initiatives," among them Christian faith, a search for knowledge and responsibility for the world, said Greta M. Buehrle, faculty adviser for the Baylor Interior Design Association and an interior design lecturer in the department of family and consumer sciences in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. "This will definitely be a unique learning experience for everyone involved."

To prepare for the competition, students will research what went right - and wrong - in lodging for disasters ranging from shacks following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire to Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers for disasters to the cozy Katrina Cottages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (Those cottages caught on later as a housing trend).

While the allotted space for the shelter is small, the challenge of designing it to aid victims physically and psychologically is huge, said Allison Lutz, a senior interior design major and president of Baylor Interior Design Association.

"My apartment is 450 square feet, but I live by myself," she said. "When you think about four people living in that space, it's hard to know where to start."

For starters, contest guidelines specify that no tents will be allowed. The unit must contain a sleeping area, a food preparation area and a bathroom, with a sustainable solution considered. Students are urged to "push the boundaries of creativity and innovation" -- all the while considering such possible problems as a lack of water fit to drink, no utilities and no waste management. To boot, the building must be quick and easy to assemble and disassemble.

Interdisciplinary teams are encouraged by competition coordinators. Students must create a three-dimensional model of the temporary lodging to include in a three-minute public service announcement video. Floor plans, elevations and news clips may be included. Students may choose the location and type of disaster, according to the guidelines.

The Texas Gulf Coast, with its potential for hurricanes and flooding, seemed a logical pick for Baylor's scenario, Lutz said.

"We've talked to faculty members and students in sociology, psychology, social work, (George W. Truett Theological Seminary), child and family studies, engineering and environmental science," Buehrle said. "It's getting good buzz."

The creative collaboration "seems to be one of those one of those projects that's a perfect match," said Chris Hansen, an associate professor and director of the Film and Digital Media Division of the department of communication at Baylor. "Our students have the ability to shoot and write the PSAs, and the design students are coming up with presentation and design elements."

Sara Dolan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, said taking part in the project could be a good learning opportunity for students in the department's crisis intervention classes.

"After a crisis, the faster we can get people into a stable situation with housing and food, the better they will fare psychologically," said Dolan, who is in the Federal Emergency Management Agency Medical Reserve Corps. "The immediate need may be to give them a toothbrush or a bottle of water or to get them their medications, not counseling. I think we can help the interior design students understand the needs of these survivors so they can design a home."

The Baylor Interior Design Association (BIDA) will host an "interest meeting" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24. A kickoff event will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5, with Marla Bearden, disaster recovery specialist with Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery, to talk about the group's work in temporary disaster housing in Japan, Haiti and the Gulf Coast.

The design session from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 9 and 10. All events will be in the Goebel Building, Room 111, 1413 S. Third St. on the Baylor campus.

The project is due Dec. 15. Winners will be announced Feb. 19, 2013, at IDEC National Conference in Indianapolis, Ind.

For more information, contact greta_buehrle@baylor.edu or allison_lutz@baylor.edu or visit www.facebook.com/socialdesignsummit


Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University's oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 26 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

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