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Modern Disaster Relief/Student Housing/Fort-like Contemporary Structure Springs Up at SMU

Walk across SMU's campus, a mini-city of stately brick buildings and pristine open spaces, and you'll stumble across an odd sight this week: a wood-framed prototype meant for housing relief after natural disasters, built sturdily on a swath of green at the center of campus. It's the latest work of bcWORKSHOP, the nonprofit community design firm founded by Brent Brown of Dallas' City Design Studio, and it's shaping up as an interesting innovation in post-disaster housing.

The idea sprang up after Hurricane Dolly in 2008, which devastated southern Texas. The state awarded money to three counties to fund the creation of prototypes for innovative housing relief for those displaced by Mother Nature. bcWORKSHOP met last summer with residents of Cameron County to learn the priorities of those who had been displaced by the storm and determine how best to meet their needs through housing.

Then, it was time to create a prototype.

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Julia Lindgren, one of the project's leaders, said it was important that the structure be primed for expansion, since their goal was to create a "seed" of a home. Instead of temporary relief trailers, these homes would be permanent structures that could be built quickly and strongly, with the basics -- a kitchen and bathroom -- and open space for flexible usage and eventual build out. Once a family moved in and people's immediate needs were addressed, the architects would meet with them to determine how best to adapt the space with additional rooms and features like patios. "You're really giving the family the ability to start anew," Lindgren said.

For the structure that's rising in the patch of green space at SMU, the bcWORKSHOP team spent last week building individual segments of the house in Deep Ellum. This would typically be done near wherever the disaster area may be. Then, the team trucked it all to SMU, where they are assembling the home this week. Eight students will move in over the weekend and spend next week in the rudimentary student housing, which is essentially the college version of the best tree fort ever.

The bcWORKSHOP house is part of the "Living Village," an exhibit meant to showcase "the latest shelter technology" for Engineering and Humanities week at SMU's Lyle School of Engineering. This one is the McMansion of the exhibit, and had already been dubbed the "party house" by student volunteers Lindgren says. A disaster relief party house, that's what we call innovation at work.

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