Architecture students from eight countries are raising a village, not of glass and steel, but of cardboard, scrap wood and plastic buckets near Pruis Hall.
As part of the architecture studio project "Leftover Space, Leftover Materials, Leftover People," students are learning to create a livable environment from forgotten spaces and the waste products of our society.
"This place has no name," said architecture professor Wes Janz, who is supervising the activities. "We're east of Pruis, next to the parking garage, but it's rare for people to walk through here and look up. "
The concept the project meant to give students is an appreciation for the communities of improvised shacks that rise up around most of the world's major cities.
Before the semester began, the architecture students explored homeless groups and clever use of space around their hometowns. During presentations Monday and Tuesday, students showed pictures of dwellings ranging from old school buses parked along the Ohio River to peeling textile mills in Bombay.
"Cities like Lagos, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City have had such population explosions that every open, unused space is typically claimed by immigrants of the city," Janz said. "In the U.S., they build roads, houses and infrastructure, and then the people move in. In most of the world, people are the first to show up."
Students had to build dwellings completely from found materials, such as carpet tubes, plastic signs and wooden pallets, and live in them for a week.
"We had to build a temporary space from temporary materials," graduate student Chris Reiter said. "As architecture students, we usually only get to see our designs on paper. This gives us a chance to see it in living color."
Bales of hay are kept around to help with the falling temperatures.
"The straw is really warm," Reiter said. "I woke up the other night almost sweating."
The structures have proven durable, even withstanding the strong winds and rains last Friday. But students maintain no illusions.
"We all kind of realize the artificiality," said graduate student Shaun Krenzke. "Even if we are trying to get the homelessness experience, we're using all the tools that society affords us. We're using cars to transport materials, which most homeless people could not do. Come Friday, we'll get to go home to our warm beds and heated houses."
Janz didn't set out to necessarily make a social statement, but rather wanted to let his students get a little creative.
"To me this isn't about telling people what to do," he said. "It's about testing the limits of our knowledge, and how we can can build and maybe improve a bit. Maybe building something so that it can withstand a wind 10 miles per hour stronger."