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Gimme Shelter by Sharon Krauss

Ben Mallinger took it as a good sign in early May when he, Ben Shapiro, and Mike Bibbey started to be recognized at Home Depot. “We’re not getting weird looks anymore for parking in the professional zone,” he says, grinning. That measure of legitimacy was one small boost in the boys’ challenge-filled efforts to build and donate a mobile shelter for a homeless person awaiting transitional housing. They envisioned their small structure on wheels as serving “someone in the in-between stage of getting back on his feet,” says Bibbey. “Even though we can’t legally call it a house or a dwelling, we want it to be their home for however long they live in it.” “We hope they’ll feel some dignity having their own living space,” says Shapiro, “and that they feel comfortable and secure because it’s well constructed.” Evolving from the boys’ shared desire to build something during Senior Spring Project, their idea was shaped by a variety of sources: BB&N’s Architecture and Design course, which inspired in all three an interest in architecture; the Tiny House Movement; Mallinger’s previous volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity and with the homeless in Boston; a San Diego charity that provides mobile shelters for homeless veterans; and even their own surroundings. “Because BB&N is right near Harvard Square,” says Mallinger, “we originally pictured our shelter there and purposefully made it the perfect size to fit legally in a parking space.” Using their knowledge of computer-aided design 3D software and consulting the San Diego model as a starting point, the boys collaborated on a plan for the structure. “We needed to add a lot more to ours strictly because of the weather here: everything on the outside has to be exterior grade, and we had to include insulation,” explains Bibbey. Their design features a pitched roof so snow will slide off, two windows for cross-breeze cooling, and a translucent polycarbonate roof to add even more natural light. They researched materials that aren’t extremely flammable, made the door lockable, and chose heavy-duty wheels to accommodate the 800-pound, 4-by-8-foot shelter, which is surprisingly easy to push. While it contains no heat or electricity, the boys hope that blankets in the weather-tight structure and battery-powered lanterns will suffice. At eight feet high in the front, the thoughtful design allows a person “to open the door and actually walk into it,” says Bibbey. “We would like them to feel that they’re in a safe

house, not a box.” Even with the roof’s slope, it’s still six feet high in the back. “When we were planning the project, we thought, it’ll be easy—we can do that. And then we got down to it,” Shapiro says, pausing with a laugh, “and it was not nearly as easy as we thought.” They soon discovered that even best intentions do not always make for smooth progress, but with support from their project advisor, woodworking teacher Paul Ruhlmann, and their youthful determination, there was no stopping this trio. Months before their Spring Project started, the boys had to talk with three administrators, draw up a budget, and through CFO Brett Fuhrman, make sure the School could insure the project. They started a GoFundMe page, which raised $875 for materials. With their project approved, the true test of their resilience began. They dealt with their amateur mistakes in cutting materials, chasing down the right parts, a rainy early May that impeded their work, and Mallinger’s arm, broken in a lacrosse game. Particularly distressing, the special-order roof was lost in shipping for a month. And then, with two weeks to go, they learned that the organization that early on had agreed to accept the donated shelter was rescinding its offer. “It was a dark few minutes reading that email,” says Mallinger. “Then I got my spiel down and went on a 30-organization call-a-thon to find someone to donate it to.” Finally, he connected with Friends of the Homeless of the South Shore, which recently had a 90-bed unit burn down and was eager to expedite the donation. “They said it was a ‘godsend.’ I was ecstatic.” In addition to learning about perseverance and the power of teamwork, Shapiro says, “It was satisfying to apply a concept we learned in class—load-bearing calculations from Engineering, for example—to the practical design of the house. It was validating.” No doubt the boys will continue to build on that gratification next year—Shapiro at Colby, Mallinger at Lafayette, and Bibbey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—and beyond, as all three pursue careers in architecture. Looking back on what they accomplished, Mallinger feels “a great sense of pride” and acknowledges “that it’s been extremely valuable to deal with setbacks and succeed on our own,” he says. “It was trial by fire, but we navigated through everything without giving up. More than any class could give us, it was a dose of real life.”


BB&N Bulletin Summer 2016  
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