Great news from our friends at Academy of Art University! School of Architecture Alumnus Peter Hope (M.Arch 2023) was able to secure a win as a Student Project Recipient in the Honors Award category. Peter’s master of architecture thesis project “Urban Refuge” addresses homelessness in Oakland, by examining the development potential of existing tent cities. The project is located in the Acorn industrial area of Oakland. Throughout the pandemic, the site was occupied by a tent city that the project responded to, by reclaiming and repurposing the rough industrial context including its materials. The resulting semi permanent architecture incorporates already existing city services available to city-sanctioned tent cities and the implementation of a larger support network for the people who made this space their home.

Projects that draw a societal relevance, or socially engaged projects that question the status quo and look for a way to improve current conditions through architecture are the hallmark of the School of Architecture. The school sees architecture as a cultural practice and a way to enhance the quality of life for all people Peter’s thesis is a great example for the mission the school has set out for itself.

Perspective 04 Peter Hope

Urban Refuge: Assisting in the development of tent communities through modular and trauma sensitive design.
Peter Hope M.Arch Academy of Art University School of Architecture
Faculty: Eric Reeder

Homelessness in the United States is a problem that disproportionately affects California. According to the world population review, the homeless population in California is 161.5 thousand; that is 16x more people affected by homelessness than the national average, 11.4 thousand. It is suffice to say that the issue of homelessness is not going away any time soon. Of all the cities in the United states, three of the cities with the highest homeless population exist in the bay area. San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco account for 10% of the homeless population of the entire state.

The object of this study and project proposal is to find ways to create better spaces of refuge for the unhoused residents of Oakland who currently call tent cities home. Tent cities are one way that the unhoused communities organizes themselves. Tent cities can pop up anywhere, from highway medians to the side of the road. The selected site for this project is inhabited by a fledgling tent city that has not quite found an organizational rhythm as others in Oakland have. It is also positioned in an industrial zone which presents opportunities for city sanctioning, should the project be successful.

Homelessness is an issue that is becoming more and more important to address in the bay area. The homeless population has increased 43% in the past year and housing in the bay area is scarce, with 83% of residentially zoned land is low density single family housing. Addressing the homeless problem requires creative and efficient problem solving in the areas of land use and programming. With residential land being occupied by predominantly low density housing looking elsewhere might provide more solutions to the problem. Locating and adaptively reusing sites that are already occupied by the homeless could not only be a solution to more efficient use of land in the city of Oakland, but it could also act to serve the community that resides there already. This is similar to the idea of programs such as “urban alchemy”, who bring the services to the people who need them most. Reusing lots that are already occupied by people affected by homelessness is an opportunity to bring social, health, and housing services to them at a larger scale.