Sleeping Pod Initiative

By Hennebery Eddy

Hennebery Eddy design staff member John Maternoski is deeply involved in Portland’s architecture community. A 2014 graduate of the University of Oregon, John has worked with Habitat for Humanity, the AIA, and the Construction Specifications Institute. In Portland alone, he is on the board of directors of the Center for Architecture, he co-chairs the AIA Portland Emerging Professionals Committee, is a member of the Architecture Foundation of Oregon and Design Museum Portland, and volunteers with other organizations around the city. In fact, he’s so involved that he started the Portland Design Events website to help the community keep track of it all. “I’ve volunteered a lot for the architecture profession,” says John, “but I hadn’t spent as much time using my architecture skills for those outside the industry.”

This fall, the City of Portland Mayor’s Office, the Center for Public Interest Design (CIPD) at Portland State University, the Village Coalition (a group of advocates, activists, and houseless individuals committed to combatting homelessness), City Repair, Communitecture, and Open Architecture Collaborative formed the Partners on Dwelling (POD) initiative and invited the design community to design and build small, beautiful and safe dwellings. The completed pods would be displayed in downtown Portland and then used this winter at Hazelnut Grove, a houseless village in North Portland. John joined his friends Julia Mollner and Nada Maani to form a team, giving them all an opportunity to put their skills to use with an immediate, tangible outcome.

John’s team, MoMaMa (a conglomeration of their last names), is one of 14 teams that designed and built sleeping pods this fall. The constructed sleeping pods are on display in Portland’s North Park Blocks (near NW 9th and NW Glisan) through December 18, 2016. They will then be moved to Hazelnut Village in North Portland for use. Below, John answers questions about his team’s process and design approach.

Q: When did you start designing the pod, and how long did the project take, start to finish?

A: We formed our team in early October, and spent several weekends as a group designing in a charrette-style process, sketching ideas on big pieces of trace. We used Revit to develop a basic model and to create a floor plan to fine-tune the dimensions of our design. After submitting our boards to share with the community in mid-November, we immediately began on construction. Combined, we probably spent 60-70 hours designing the pod, and more than 250 hours constructing it.  We built it ourselves, with help from several of our friends – we couldn’t have done it without them!

Q: Were you given budget parameters for the project?

A: Each team was given a $2,000 stipend for materials from the Mayor’s office and the Larson Foundation; while some teams sought additional crowd-funded dollars or additional sponsorships from firms, MoMaMa was able to keep costs to almost exactly $2,000, purchasing materials at regular home-improvement and hardware stores! We were able to achieve this because we also received many donated materials from some generous companies. Mr. Plywood donated the lumber and discounted our sheathing, plywood and drywall; Howard S. Wright donated the insulation; Floor Solutions donated flooring; Jeld-Wen donated our window, The ReBuilding Center donated our door; and our weather barrier was donated by Fortifiber.

Q: Tell us about your sleeping pod design

A: We used the idea of two main bars in the diagram of our design. One bar is the resting space and is the exact size of a twin mattress. We opted to build bunk beds in this space, so the pod provides sheltered sleeping space for two people.  In the middle of the pod there’s an open circulation area which includes the door and window. The other bar comprises storage. For the roof, we explored flat and other more modern design options, but ultimately opted for a gable roof to signify the idea of shelter, house and home in a more traditional sense.


Q: Did you encounter any surprises or challenges?

A: Designing the pod was one thing, but the reality of actually building it hit me later. It’s a lot of responsibility. Ultimately, it was really nice to actually build something we designed. We all draw all the time, but having the chance to put things together was a good learning experience for addressing things we might not have seen on paper, or might not have thought about during design.

Q: How do you think the POD initiative addresses homelessness in Portland?

A: I’m glad to know that among the teams, we’re providing shelter for at least 16 people this winter. Houselessness in Portland is a huge issue, and I don’t think there is a single, simple solution. Every contribution does help, and I think these sleeping pods have gotten a lot of attention and started some good conversations. It will be interesting to see how people react to the various designs, both now and after the pods have been in use for a few months.