The number of people living in New York City without a place to call home has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The city's shelter system is at capacity and struggles to offer spaces of safety, cleanliness, and comfort for the city's least fortunate.
Leaning on technology
to eradicate homelessness
A personal oasis
within the bustling city
The city's abundance of overlooked land
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with a view
"a true human crisis that is a litmus test for society’s compassion and government’s competence"
s the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, cities are densifying at a tremendous rate. In metropolises like New York City the land is scarce and the rents are at a record high. As a direct-result of these soaring numbers, more and more people are unable to afford a place to live and find themselves homeless. Coalition for the Homeless estimates that over 61,000 people are sleeping in the city's homeless shelters every night, and that thousands more are sleeping on the streets, in the subway system, and in other public spaces .
The explanation for New York's high homeless population has its roots in the late 1970s. During these years the city turned against the single-room occupancy (SRO) units. These were a form of housing units that once dominated the New York housing market. They accommodated one or two people in individual rooms and were very modest in size. Because of their affordability they played a vital role in providing housing for the city's poorest. In 1955 changes in the housing code prohibited conversion or construction of new SRO units and at the end of the 1970s there were only a small number of them left. To provide context: the estimated 175,000 SRO units that were eliminated from 1955 on were roughly equivalent in number to New York’s entire public housing system .
his massive and acute problem is not only a tragedy for the affected people, but it is also a large economical burden for the city. For perspective, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has an annual operating budget of $955,300,000 .
Although the situation is incredibly complex, the steps towards reducing the homeless population can be boiled down to two clear actions:
1. Provide more low-income housing
2. Bolster the housing assistance programs to reduce the eviction rate.
Step one seems plain and simple: Create less high-end housing for the high-income households and more affordable housing for the low-income households. But, this involves a steep uphill battle - against the city's powerful real-estate sector. To provide context: Low income households made up 63% of renters in 2011, only 26% of rental units in the city were low-income affordable .
As an intermediate step to reduce the shelter population, the city needs a lot of temporary housing that can enable an effective and sequential reduction of the shelter population. A key challenge in achieving this, is competing against the city's real-estate moguls for the required land to build.
Another consequence of the growth of NYC, is the increase in land prices and the reduction of available land to build on. Although almost every square foot of space in NYC has been claimed and utilized, there still manages to exist an abundant amount of “vertical lots” sitting idle. These are the blank sidewalls of buildings that emerges and disappears as new developments come and go. In aggregate they make up hundreds of acres of available "land".
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
omed is a proposal that seeks to capitalize on this "vertical land". In conjunction with a flexible framework that already exists in the city - scaffolding - hexagon-shaped housing modules are designed to connect to the scaffolding structure, pack densely, and create a second, active layer on top of the empty wall. In aggregate, this forms clusters of suspended micro-neighborhoods of shelters for the city’s least fortunate.
The tried and trusted
with the new and exciting
he utilization of scaffolding as super structure for the system, offers a host of advantages. It ensures that the clusters easily, and cost-effectively can be erected, expanded upon, and disassembled. As the system offers a quick deployment, the clusters can relocate and expand in tandem with changes in the built environment - as hosting structures emerge and disappear. Additionally, the nimbleness of the scaffolding system allows the city to utilize land that otherwise is too difficult and expensive to develop. At a finer scale, as the scaffolding offers a wide range of different connections points for the units, the residents are able to curate different adjacencies, organizations, and responses to the immediate surroundings.
he unit is designed to provide a year-round home for its resident. While the exterior construction of steel and oxidized aluminum deals with the wear and tear of the city, the interior is made up of organic shapes of 3D-printed plastic, that - clad with wood laminate - create a warm and friendly environment. The interior modules are 3D-printed from recyclable bioplastics, offering a much more environmentally friendly and cost-effective assembly than a comparable traditional one. As equipment, lighting, storage, and furniture - as well as a host of sensors, can be embedded into the module, each space can be tailored to the individual resident, and serve her/his needs and wants. As such, the units are not merely a place for shelter, but a place that can support and improve life.
n aggregate, the front face of the Homed units create a cellular mosaic that gives new life to idle building walls throughout the city. Beyond the visual presence, the clusters will be able to foster strong communities within its residents - and with the local hosting neighborhood.
. . . to collective units for socializing and informal meetings. This modular approach even lends itself to allowing residents to design their own units, and customizing the shapes, materials, equipment/furniture configurations etc. of their environments - allowing each and every one to create their ideal rooms for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city - all while keeping a hexagonal view of it.
A key distinction between the proposal and the city's existing offerings of shelter spaces, lies in its unitized nature. Albeit limited in size, the unit nevertheless offers a space dedicated for single-occupancy. This is a response to a host of factors which the typical shelter spaces are unable to provide, many of which are crucial for acceptable qualities of life: privacy, safety, individuality, self-esteem, among others.
The unit itself combines a pre-fabricated outer aluminum shell, rugged to handle the wear and tear of the city, with 3D printed polycarbonate interior modules. This technology allows the interior to support any spatial, functional, and stylistic preference the resident may have. Each end is capped with PMMA smart glass, offering transparency and privacy.
The front face of the pod is made up of a smart-glass assembly with a layer of thin film diodes. This allows the face to be clear (aligned particles/light transmitted) and open to the city outside, translucent (particles in random positions/light absorbed), and provide privacy for the resident, or transmit digital content. This can be artwork curated/created by the resident, public information, or commercial content - effectively enabling revenue opportunities. In any case, striking expressions can be displayed.
New York City Population Growth Rate 
As the graph above illustrates, the homeless population has been growing steadily since then. But, at it's tail end, a drastic increase occurs. Since 2012, the city has seen a 40% increase . Three factors in particular are responsible for this:
1. Widening housing affordability gap.
Between 2005 and 2013, the median rent increased by nearly 12 percent while the median income of renter households increased by only 2.3 percent .
2. Cutback on housing assistance.
There has been a steady decline in rental subsidy for low-income households in New York. On top of that, the allocated budget for investments in building and preserving affordable housing has been reduced.
3. Weakening of rent regulation laws.
The number of rent-regulated apartments has steadily gone down. Between 1991 and 2011, the city lost over 100,000 rent-regulated apartment. Meanwhile, the total number of rental units had increased by 200,000 .
Homeless Population, New York City 
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On a parting note, it is important to stress that Homed is not proposed as a singular solution to the situation. Rather, it is intended to be an instrument that plays a part in the solution. The massive extent and complexity of the situation requires work on a broad regulatory and policy-making level. But, it is critical that the design community is part of the process.
1: Basic Facts About Homelessness: New York City, Coalition for the Homeless,
2: Homeless shelter population. New York City Department of Homeless Services, NYU Furman Center
3: New York City Population 1970 - 2025, Urbanomics for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), September 2004
4: The New York City Housing Authority estimates that there are 178,914 public housing units as of March 1, 2013. About NYCHA Fact Sheet, N.Y.C. HOUS. AUTH., http:/ /www.nyc.gov/html/nycha/html/about/factsheet.shtml (last visited Jan. 24, 2014).
5: "Why New York City’s Homeless Family Policies Keep Failing", The Huffington Post, February 24, 2016, by Ralph da Costa Nunez, PhD
6: "East Village, Manhattan" Wikipedia,
7: Transcript of Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State Address, January 13, 2016,
8: Portrait artwork by the incredible Viktor Miller-Gausa
9: "Innovations in NYC Health and Human Services Policy: Homelessness Prevention, Intake, and Shelter for Single Adults and Families", February, 2014, by Christin Durham and Martha Johnson
10: "Rent Stabilization in New York City" , NYU Furman Center
Generously covered by:
PMMA Smart Glass
HSS 1x1x1/4 Frame
3D-Printed Recycled PC
PMMA Smart Glass
& THE CITY
A complementary contrast
with a beaming character
By combining different module types, a wide range of different units can be created. From a bedroom with a study nook...
D printing - a manufacturing technology that dates back to the early 1980s, has seen incredible advancements over the last few years, as companies in a wide range of industries are turning to the technology to streamline manufacturing processes. There is one industry, however, that seemingly still tries to keep a safe distance from it: building construction. As a big, expensive, custom, and heavily regulated field, the construction industry is historically very slow to change. Although 3D-printing is being experimented with at the (academic) fringes of the industry, these are the exceptions, and usually driven by the quest to explore interesting geometric qualities. However, incredible opportunities reveal themselves when the technology is deployed for high-volume spatial structures - assets that reach far beyond dazzling parametric structures.