Sophomore’s Innovative Design for Shelters for the Unhoused Draws Positive Attention
Cathy Morrison

In her GSDSEF abstract, Renee wrote, ““How do we create better shelters with limited funding and time while simultaneously minimizing the environmental impact? Inspired by Lego bricks and the Rubik’s Cube, my project is a tiny home prototype for the unhoused that can be assembled by interlocking 10 prefabricated components. Unlike any other prefabricated homes currently available, my project’s innovative modular concept makes manufacturing, transportation and installation cheaper, faster and more efficient.” She also proposes the use of “solar power and an independent plumbing system.”

In addition to the GSDSEF, Renee submitted the project to international and national competitive programs this winter, as well as continuing on to the California Science & Engineering Fair. 

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) hosted the 2021 World Series of Innovation in December. The nonprofit’s corporate sponsors each invite submissions in categories related to their businesses. Per the NFTE website, “NFTE's World Series of Innovation invites young people to get involved in solving some of the biggest challenges humanity faces today and advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Renee chose the challenge presented by the French construction company Saint-Gobain, “Sustainable Cities.” The company describes it like this: “The Challenge [is to] design a solution to promote use of sustainable building materials or create a circular economy in building construction.” She was one of ten finalists announced in February 2022, ultimately earning a second-place finish and a $600 cash prize. 

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City hosted the 2022 National High School Design Competition. Established in 2016, the competition asks the question, “What Would You Design for a More Peaceful and Just World?”  

“The 2022 National High School Design Competition challenges high school students around the country to join in envisioning the future we want to live in and designing for a more peaceful and just world,” says the organization’s website. 

Renee’s project was one of 722 submitted from students across the US, and she earned a national honorable mention. 

Because each competition emphasized different aspects of her project, she had the opportunity to consider multiple facets of the overall project and apply different key skills for each - engineering, business planning and sustainability, and overall design components. 

Her project summary for Cooper Hewitt states, “Millions of people worldwide are denied the basic human right to a home. The typical homeless shelter fails to cater to individuals’ needs because they do not support independent and private living. However, tiny homes offer comfortable living, permanent housing, a sense of community, and a path to rebuilding self-respect. I designed a self-sustainable, environmentally sensitive, and deconstructable tiny home for the unhoused. It uses solar panels and water tanks to be entirely off-grid, and it is built from recycled materials. Because it is deconstructable, it can be easily and cheaply manufactured, transported, and customized to individuals’ personal needs. My tiny homes provide more humanized alternatives to shelters for the unhoused. They can help people worldwide, from those who sleep rough, to refugees, to natural disaster survivors. Beyond providing physical shelter, they create safe communities that help underserved individuals reestablish self-respect, and they embrace people back into society.” 

Congratulations Renee!