Students highlight homeless journey through architecture

Wednesday, 03 December 2008

Brookes architecture students create structure out of reused materials to evoke what it feels like to be homeless.

A group of architecture students at Oxford Brookes are creating a structure made out of reused materials to evoke what it feels like to be homeless on the streets of the city.

Students and visitors to the University are being invited to take a journey through the structure, being erected in the centre of the Headington campus, designed and crafted out of varying sizes of wood found in skips.

It takes the form of a narrow and enclosed pathway, allowing little room for movement. The concept is that the visitor has to go from one end to the other, symbolic of the rough journey that homeless people go through in their lives.

A group of 28 students are spending several days building the structure, which is about nine metres long and up to three metres high and wide. Quotes from homeless people are being spray painted on the inside.

“We got our ideas by speaking to homeless people themselves,” explained Josh Greig, a second year student in the Department of Architecture who has taken on the role of project manager. “They told us their life stories, and what it was like to end up on the street. One man told me how, after his wife died of cancer, he lost his job, and ended up living in a tent in a wood.

“It’s changed what I think completely, and it’s had a big effect on all of us. Homeless people feel invisible to society. It’s their isolation and exclusion which we are trying to convey in this structure.”

Their tutors Melissa Kinnear and Matt Clay set a tough brief for the project, called Do You Understand Me? Raising Awareness of Homelessness in Oxford. It is a part of the Development and Emergency Practice Design Unit on the Architecture BA. The students were set a budget of zero, and had to build the structure themselves.

“The aim of this project is to make our students think about the real world, and broaden their horizons. I am very impressed with this project, especially the way the students have engaged with homeless people to convey the issues,” said Melissa Kinnear.

The structure will be opened in the Space to Think area, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site at 3pm on Thursday 4 December.