University of Calgary

Housing First focus

April 15, 2009

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Engineering students help erase homelessness

With Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness entering its second year, the first-year students of the Schulich School of Engineering are adding their design skills to the “Housing First” focus of the Plan.

“Tapping into the minds of Calgary’s post-secondary students is a great way to develop creative, new ways to build affordable housing and help address challenges vulnerable Calgarians face,” says Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Stephanie Soto displays her design for affordable housing. / Photo: Ken Bendiktsen

Stephanie Soto displays her design for affordable housing. / Photo: Ken Bendiktsen
More than 650 students worked in teams, using their problem-solving and engineering skills to come up with 24 prototypes of affordable housing structures. They had to consider aesthetics, cost-effectiveness and sustainability. The project is part of the compulsory ENGG 253 class in engineering design and communication.

“We wanted to incorporate as many different aspects as we could to make the clientele feel it is their home, it isn’t just a house,” says Stephanie Soto, project manager for one of the teams. “It’s somewhere they can go to relax, feel safe and comfortable and also feel like they belong somewhere.”

The Calgary Homeless Foundation provided speakers to help students understand the challenges faced by those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“At the Schulich School of Engineering, we encourage students to get involved outside the classroom and use their skills and creativity to make a difference in the community,” says Marjan Eggermont, senior instructor. “The guest speakers provided invaluable insight, by giving the project a human face and inspiring students to design housing that also serve specific needs."

Second-year chemical engineering student Madiha Khurshid helped Eggermont develop this project after spending several months researching affordable housing issues through the Programs for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) program. Her research also earned her the Social Sustainability Award from the U of C’s Office of Sustainability last November.

“I am interested in any project that demonstrates the human side of engineering,” Khurshid explains. “Projects such as affordable housing have an impact on people directly. It’s really meaningful to work on something that can make such a difference.”

The designs will be revealed at the class’s Design Open House on April 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon outside the MacEwan Hall first floor ballroom at the University of Calgary. The event will be an opportunity for students to present their affordable housing concepts and for guests to ask questions.

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