SMU students experience Engineering & Humanity Week
through building and sleeping in the Living Village

Students to live, cook and sleep in temporary shelters April 15-20


April 13, 2012

DALLAS (SMU) – The Living Village is back for its second year at SMU, serving as an interactive display and teaching tool for Engineering & Humanity Week April 15-20 as students live, cook and sleep in temporary shelters designed for international refugees and rapidly expanding urban populations.

Students, faculty and local members of the community began building the village on the lawn just west of the Engineering Quad on April 11, preparing to showcase a variety of shelter technologies with applications for people displaced by war and natural disasters, as well as impoverished urban dwellers in the developing world. The village’s temporary residents – student volunteers from disciplines all over campus – will be without electricity and running water in the shelters, as is frequently the case for refugee populations.

Engineering & Humanity Week calls attention to meeting the needs of the impoverished and displaced through technology and creativity. The week is built around SMU's Living Village, a collection of inexpensive but durable shelters for refugees and rapidly expanding urban populations, and a variety of speakers who advocate from a global perspective different approaches to improving living conditions for all.

Many of this year’s shelters are designed for longer-term habitation than last year’s, and two are student projects. Harvey Lacey is back with his popular recycled plastic Ubuntu Blox House, fresh from exhaustive earthquake testing that proved his house to be a potential fit for quake-prone places like Haiti.

And bcWORKSHOP’s Brent Brown has brought his Rapido Prototype, the largest structure in the village, developed as part of the state of Texas’ Natural Disaster Housing Reconstruction Plan. During Engineering & Humanity Week, bcWORKSHOP designers will seek feedback from SMU students and visitors to help them improve the project’s design, construction process, deployment method and performance.

Read more about the innovative structures that will make up the Living Village. The public is welcome to tour the village and speak with student participants, who also will be blogging their experiences.

SMU Habitat for Humanity Shelter:

The SMU Chapter of Habitat for Humanity works closely with Highland Park United Methodist Church and Dallas Habitat for Humanity to build quality homes for needy people throughout the school year. During summers, chapter members participate in international build events. One student explains, “Home ownership enables stability, community, and safety for families and children, which in turn brings about an increase in education and economic prospects.” More about Habitat’s programs at

“Rajo” Shelter at Tasfa:

Designed by SMU senior engineering students for a refugee camp outside Dolo, Ado, Ethiopia, the building materials are native to Ethiopia and require neither water nor components that must be bored into the soil (the ground cover is very fine beach sand). Designed for 56,000 refugees, the structures are easily assembled by women and children. The “Rajo” shelter tents (“Rajo” means hope in Somali) are made of chicken-wire wrapped and tied to a PVC frame by rope and PVC fittings and affixed to hooks fastened to stakes attached to a sand-filled base.

Ubuntu Blox House:

In 2010, following a Hunt Institute presentation by Kenyan architect Ronald Omyonga, Texas inventor Harvey Lacey began mulling an idea for housing the extreme poor. Within six months, Harvey, a metal worker from the Dallas suburb of Wylie, invented Ubuntu-Blox, small bricks of plastic refuse — some made of discarded water bottles, others of Styrofoam and plastic film — bound like miniature hay bales and covered with mud and stucco. The house built for E&H Week 2011 was recently earthquake and hurricane tested, remained intact, and is currently displayed at the Living Village. An Ubuntu-Blox house can be built for about $250. More at

$300 Rural House:

It began as a challenge in a blog post on the Harvard Business Review website — figure out a way to construct a simple house for $300 or less that could be built on a massive scale. The result is a collection of 300 design submissions from around the world. The idea for the $300 house project originated in a conversation between Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business professor Vijay Govindarajan and marketing consultant Christian Sarkar. More information at

bcWORKSHOP’s Rapido Prototype:

bcWORKSHOP, which provided the commissary and a portable gallery at last year’s inaugural Engineering & Humanity Week, developed the Rapido prototype as part of the state of Texas’ Natural Disaster Housing Reconstruction Plan. During Engineering & Humanity Week, bcWORKSHOP designers will seek feedback from SMU students and visitors to help them improve the project’s design, construction process, deployment method and performance. More at

Pallet House:

Using only shipping pallets, or skids, architects Suzan Wines and Azin Valy created a tiny, modular home design. Following Ikea-style pictorial instructions, it takes four to five people using power tools less than a week to build a 250-square-foot home out of 100 pallets. Shipping pallets should be plentiful in a disaster zone — where shipments of clothing, food and other emergency supplies arrive on pallets. More information at


Tina Hovsepian, a 2009 graduate of the USC School of Architecture, designed and developed a foldable, portable, emergency housing shelter based on the principles of origami — a design she field tested on LA’s skid row. Cardborigami is a portable shelter that provides insulated, waterproof, flame-retardant and recyclable space with no assembly required. It expands into a shelter big enough for two people to sleep in. The cardboard origami shelter can fold down small enough to carry or be placed on bus bike racks. More at

The Pennington Shelter:

David Pennington’s passion for aquaponics — the science of efficient food production in a water-based system — led to the development of a dome shelter made mostly of waste EPS (expanded polystyrene, commonly known by the trade name, Styrofoam). The dome structure — 20 feet in diameter and 14 feet tall—is durable, fireproof, and insect and impact-resistant. More at


IADDIC Shelters of Flower Mound, Texas created the iHouse. The example in the Living Village was made in 2 hours and can house a family of five for approximately $1,500. The structure has three windows, a door, and foam walls imbedded with steel piers for anchoring to any foundation. IADDIC also created a turn-key business solution for local entrepreneurs in developing countries called The iVillage. It contains materials and supplies to make a large quantity of customized homes, as well as licensing, training and project management to help the local businesses thrive. More at

The Folding Geodesic Dome:

This structure simplifies things with tape hinges that pre-connect many of the triangles into 16 segments, each of which can fold into a small stack and connects to its neighbors via tabs and clips. The more hinges used, the less time spent connecting triangles in the field. The dome goes up with 2 people in 2 hours or less. Takedown time is 30 minutes. There are great Instructables for light domes made from Coroplast or cardboard which negate the need for a support frame. Learn more at

The Living Village is the centerpiece of the annual Engineering & Humanity Week, which provides in-depth exposure to global economics, cultural awareness, collaborative leadership, and principles of sustainability. Engineering & Humanity Week is sponsored by Hunter and Stephanie Hunt, the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering, and co-hosted with the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Center.

The Hunt Institute is housed within SMU's Lyle School of Engineering and is committed to identifying and creating technologies beneficial and affordable to the world’s developing communities, while also educating engineering and non-engineering students in the design and distribution of those technologies to accelerate global development.

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