At The School of Architecture, Masters of Architecture students can opt to participate in The Shelter Program instead of a traditional thesis. This program is a hands-on learning opportunity where students design and construct shelters that can be used by the local community or as housing for future TSOA students. Students are encouraged to explore and investigate various materials and methods. They also pay homage to TSOA’s commitment to the relationship between the built environment and its natural context.

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Close up of the top triangular frame of The Octahedron which features a gabion-like mesh filled with rocks

The shelters are designed to respond to the rocky, undulating landscape and arid desert climate in Arcosanti, Arizona. Students also work alongside community members to understand their needs. Because of the explorative, hands-on approach, the project design evolves throughout the process and challenges the concept of shelter.

Related: Invisible Studio’s woodland shelter is out of a fairytale

A timber structure with a pitched roof

The 2022 student shelters are very distinct in design. Moreover, each has a unique connection to the landscape and context of Arcosanti. The projects are as follows: The Octahedron by Archie Kinney, Earth Shed by Richard Sanchez and Vergence by William Palmer.

Interlaced timber form that features gabions on a sloped site

The Octahedron by Archie Kinney serves as a viewing deck that offers panoramic views of the incredible desert landscape. It was designed in collaboration with Arcosanti community members and features a timber-based octahedral framework that is integrated with gabion walls. The tectonic framework supports platforms to accommodate basic living items like a hammock or mattress. Meanwhile, the gabion walls encase artifacts from the environmental remediation work of the land and Arcosanti’s history. Because of the form’s openness, it is suggested that the project will continue to expand outwards and feature more artifacts over the years.

Small, pitched roof shelter in a field

Earth Shed by Richard Sanchez is hybrid in nature, specifically concerning its various functions and materiality. The interior spaces are multi-use and scaled for living and gathering much like a tatami room. It also features a space to dry vegetables harvested from the surrounding field. To maximize these self-sustenance features, the project is built in collaboration with the town’s agriculture department.

Corner view of the Earth Shed featuring the earth-plastered wall and timber frame

With regard to materials and methods, Earth Shed combines a light timber frame with earth construction. Through its design, the shelter explores locally-sourced materials and ethical labor practices. For example, clay for the walls was gathered from the nearby Agua Fria River with the help of Arcosanti residents and fellow students. Over time, the exterior walls will be fully plastered in the local clay. This process will create a new shared ritual amongst the town’s residents and support the use of local materiality harvesting and application.

Exterior view of the Vergence Pavilion showing the jute-rope gridded roof and solid timber walls

Vergence by William Palmer features a tensile-shading structure that hovers over a floating wooden deck. The pavilion features approximately 1,500 feet of jute rope that creates beautiful, interlacing shadows that are cast on the deck below. Its impressive use of untrained volunteer construction and integration of various donated materials contribute to its aesthetic appeal.

Each of these designs explores the concept of shelter while using local materials and embracing community.

+ The School of Architecture

Images courtesy of The School of Architecture