In times of disaster, how can one bring hope and dignity to people suffering in a protracted humanitarian crisis?
It's a question Judson University's 33 sophomore architecture students tried to answer through designing and building creative emergency shelters for rapid deployment and setup in areas affected by natural or man-made disasters.
The students did a trial run Wednesday assembling three shelters that will be entered into the Disaster Shelter Competition -- sponsored by World Vision and John Brown University -- April 24-25 at JBU in Siloam Springs, Ark.
It's the third year the Elgin university's design studio students have participated in the contest. For most students, it is their first opportunity to build a full-scale model of their design, said Stacie Burtelson, Judson professor of architecture.
"Rarely in academia and architecture do you start with an initial design idea and take it all the way to a full-scale build," she said. "It's a real leap for these sophomores ... bringing that idea to tangible results with real materials."
During the semester-long project, each student had to design a preliminary shelter concept, which was then critiqued to narrow down the contest entries to the top three shelter designs. Three teams of students built the prototypes of their designs Wednesday in a timed session to prepare for the competition.
In years past, the competition theme was hypothetical disaster scenarios. This year, students were asked to design transitional shelters for a Syrian refugee camp.
World Vision might use some of the ideas for shelters it deploys in that region.
"It's made it a little bit more real," Burtelson said. "The students have become fully invested in that whole crisis. We've been following the newsfeeds and reading everything we can about what's been happening in the current refugee camps."
Environmental stewardship is a design philosophy guiding Judson's architecture program, founded in 1997 and accredited in 2004.
"As architects, we approach the problem in a different way," Burtelson said. "We really kind of think about the humanistic aspects that factor into designing a space, is there any way a space can heal, deal with the holistic needs someone has, maybe give hope and not only take care of basic needs."
Students incorporated features like color, windows, and courtyards to make the shelters feel more like homes for Syrian refugees who may live for years in camps.
"As humans we innately love beauty -- we search for those things," said sophomore Curtis James "C.J." Schneider, 20. "To some degree, that is the job of an architect. If you look at a lot of the refugee camps, they are monochromatic."
Schneider's team incorporated blue colored panels in its shelter to eliminate that dreariness. The prefabricated panels also can be individually customized. "We want to at least add some of that personal element back into the camp," he said.
Casey Richards, 19, said her team's focus was preserving human dignity.
In researching Syrian culture, students found that Syrian people often sleep and socialize on rooftops because of the hot climate. So the group designed a shelter with a roof that could carry the weight of roughly two people.
"We had to construct roof trusses," she said. "It's also going to help with the congestion of refugee camps. They are very tight and dirty. Just to be able to elevate yourself up above this congestion is going to really give them a sense of dignity."
The modular design also allows for adaptability so multiple shelters could be grouped together to create a courtyard space within where families could gather, she added.
The third shelter design is shaped like an L, also allowing for a courtyard. It is insulated with Styrofoam to keep cool during hot days and contain the heat at night. Inside, it is one big space that can be divided by hanging tarp from roof trusses. The roof also angles up with a window above acting like a skylight, said student Joseph Lentini.
"The sky is universal, and they can kind of look up out of that situation," Lentini said.