Community Architecture Project: Part 1

K. Patricia Bouweraerts
James Severt Image

James Severt is working toward his Construction and Design AAS, Architecture Emphasis at TMCC.

Architecture student James Severt says that a design and build project that now involves three classes of fellow students, instructors, and the City of Reno began with an idea born out of an English 101: Composition I assignment at Truckee Meadows Community College.

“I went on a bicycle ride along the river, and there was tent after tent after tent—there was just blight,” he said. “I was concerned because I was riding with a friend and her seven-year-old son. Then back at home, I had an English 101 paper due and it was an argumentative paper. And so I wrote why people shouldn’t have to be living along the river.”

His paper was entitled “Homeless Encampments Along the Truckee River.”

“Patricia Miller was the English 101 Professor and has a major doing in my now passion of helping create a solution to house people in need and get them out of the tents,” Severt said.

Shortly after he completed the paper, he saw a video about a charitable organization that handed out socks to people who are homeless in the Los Angeles basin.

“It’s a civic duty for everybody to help give people temporary housing,” he said.

Severt did not forget about this written assignment as he continued to pursue courses in his major. He’s working toward his Construction and Design AAS, Architecture Emphasis.

“Architects are about health, safety, and welfare,” Severt added.

The Universe Converges

At about the same time that Severt needed to decide on the topic for his Independent Study course, his Architecture Instructor, Kreg Mebust, was called by a housing developer in the region, Kelly Rae. She phoned him unexpectedly to talk about a concern for those who are homeless in the region, and conveyed an idea to construct housing from large, recycled industrial containers. This construction method for many levels of housing is trending in the West.

She expressed to Mebust that young minds working on a challenging problem might come up with fresh solutions, and then they could present their ideas to the City of Reno.

“What better place than the classroom—it’s relevant, it’s important, there’s a problem—so why don’t we do something about it,” Mebust said. “She had seen our previous ‘Build on the Hill’ student architecture project and thought we could build something for people that would give dignity.”

Mebust will continue to work with Rae, asking her to join the team working on evaluating student designs for the project that has now been launched—to build individual, transitional housing units for individuals in Northern Nevada who are homeless.

The Project Expands

Severt and Mebust will coordinate the project, and have brought on board three other classes of enthusiastic architecture students.

As Project Manager, Severt will complete requirements for AAD 280: Independent Study, and AAD 223: AutoCAD.

Second-year architecture design students in AAD 282: Fundamentals of Architecture Design II will work on the structural design, drafting students in AAD 265: Computer Applications in Architecture I will work on the computer-aided drawings, and students enrolled in AAD 230: Design With Climate will also contribute to the project.

The TMCC Foundation has offered to help gather donations of materials, and Interim Dean of Technical Sciences Kyle Dalpe will seek support from companies in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

“The City of Reno is on board—it’s a landowner and has a five-acre site along the railroad tracks, east of Sage Street,” Severt said.

Right now he’s aiming for individual residential units that have electricity, storage, bed and desk, and be located close to a commons shower facility.

“I thrive on the challenge, that there is a way to do this,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

For more information about the community architecture project, please call Architecture Instructor Kreg Mebust at 775-673-7265.

Coming in Part 2

Students are surprised to discover through research and guest speakers that there are various causes of homelessness, and much data is available.