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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Search for Shelter

This past weekend, over 70 volunteer designers came together in Rapson Hall on the U of M campus for the 29th annual Search for Shelter, a weekend-long design charrette run by AIA-Minnesota that provides pro-bono design services to non-profit organizations focusing on affordable housing in Minnesota.

The event brings professional architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and students together for three days to create a design proposal and present it to the non-profit client. While Search for Shelter began as a nationwide event almost thirty years ago, AIA Minnesota is now one of the few AIA chapters from across the country to still run the event as originally intended.

This year's Search for Shelter began on the evening of Friday, Jan. 30th, with an opening address by some of the organizers of the Search for Shelter and members of AIA Minnesota's Housing Advocacy Committee, followed by a video presentation of the 2014 Affordable Housing Design Award Recipient, Clare Midtown, an affordable residence for people living with HIV/AIDS. The volunteers then split up into eight different groups, which they would stay in for the remainder of the weekend, to meet with their client. The client then explained the project, the parameters of the design proposal they were looking for, and then answered any questions that the design group had.

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Site visit with Search for Shelter 2015 AEON group

The group I was a part of worked with a client from the non-profit developer AEON to develop an initial design proposal for an affordable housing apartment complex for recently homeless youth and mixed-income tenants on a nearly block long site on University Avenue in St. Paul. After touring the site with our client early Saturday morning, we set down to the task of brainstorming and designing, working together to create a respectful building concept that prioritized AEON's goals of fostering a sense of community, instilling a feeling of security, and incorporating strategies to make the building more sustainable. The completed proposal scheme, involving a set of lively rooftop terraces that cascades down and around the building form, was presented to the larger group and to the client on Sunday at noon, and can be seen in it's entirety at this link.

The Search for Shelter was a tremendous experience, offering an opportunity to work with professional designers, for real clients, on an actual project, and represents a wonderful chance to use my skills as a designer to help those in need.

The other non-profit groups assisted during the 2015 Search for Shelter are:
Alafia Place
Alliance Housing Inc.
Anna Marie's Alliance
Avenues for Homeless Youth
Rebuilding Together TC
Salvation Army
Women's Advocates

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