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David Kalman, Rick Schutte, Randa Omar, "The Pod House"

Technology Studio IV (ARC381)
2020

In ARC381, students were tasked with developing and prototyping a material system — in other words, a type of assembly that could be aggregated and repeated in order to create a large, experimental structure.

David, Rick, and Randa's project began with a seemingly straightforward question: what if we found a way to create extremely thin three-dimensional objects? After some trial and error they began experimenting with a homemade vacuum-forming rig. The simple machine, constructed from parts they created on the Daniels Faculty's laser cutters, allowed them to mould thin sheets of plastic into objects with depth and height. Using their vacuum-forming technique, they created this ridged, doughnut-shaped object:

Vacuum-formed plastic prototype for the Pod House

For their final project, they decided to use that plastic doughnut as the basis for a new type of housing. Their "pod house" would be made of recycled plastic, vacuum-formed into fin-shaped panels which would then be assembled into doughnut-shaped volumes held aloft by tall central columns. The rigidity of the house-sized plastic forms would be enhanced by an internal scaffolding made of metal, or resin. The intent was to create a type of structure that could be built between existing urban structures, as infill.

"These homes would have very minimal ground impact, because they have super small bases," David says. "If you have a really awkward urban space, you could still put these in, because they take up very little ground space."

David Kalman, Rick Schutte, and Randa Omar's Pod House

A drawing showing the pod house's internal assembly.

Transforming these strange objects into a plausible design for urban infill required David, Rick, and Randa to put a considerable amount of thought into how a person would actually go about living in a round, plastic space. In order to control the amount of sunlight pouring into the structure's oblong windows, they elongated the floor plan into an ellipse, so that windows that receive direct sunlight could be slightly smaller than those that don't.

Creating an interior layout was surprisingly simple: they divided the structure with radial walls, giving each room the shape of a wedge of pie. One of the doughnut's fins becomes a little reading den:

Plan and section view of the Pod House
Renderings of David Kalman, Rick Schutte, and Randa Omar's Pod House

Top: A pod house floor plan and section. Bottom: Renderings of a completed pod house.

David, Rick, and Randa also gave some consideration to the impact these structures might have on surrounding homes. "We designed the plastic exterior panels to have these ridges on them that would keep the wind flowing above, and even push it up higher, so as not pull more wind down to the walkable areas underneath," Rick says. "And so these buildings would help create comfortable park areas beneath themselves."

Despite the apparent opulence of the design, the use of recycled materials and pre-formed components means these homes could — at least in theory — be mass produced, cheaply and sustainably.

"We looked up the prices of recycled plastics versus the prices of virgin plastics and traditional building materials," Randa says. "We were trying to make sure that recycled plastics would actually be economical."

Ultimately, though, the group's priority was to create a space that might be appealing to an end user. "We went full tilt on making this a really beautiful space," David says. "At its core, this project is an environmental plea — but we wanted to make it attractive enough that somebody would actually want to do it."

Instructor: Tomasz Reslinski