Williams College

Team Members:

Amanda Roff – Chemistry

Emily Kuwaye – History/History & Studio

Jaya Alagar – Chemistry/Art History

School: Williams College

Challenge: Advanced Building Construction Methods

Develop an innovative solution incorporating substantial changes in building materials or construction methods, leading to benefits such as increased productivity and worker safety through reduced construction time, reduced cost and waste, improvements to occupant comfort and health, and reduced energy use.

Project Title: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Homeless Shelter Design

Solution: While societal factors contributing to homelessness have been well-documented, less emphasis has been placed on the impacts of the built environment on homeless populations’ health, safety, and well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated housing instability of these already-vulnerable people, who have largely endured either crowded homeless shelters or detrimental impacts from living unsheltered. By devising and focusing on a novel building material, as well as associated construction and design logistics, our proposal intends to shift homeless shelter functions beyond providing only transient housing and into offering opportunities for residents’ reintegration. We leverage innovations from pharmaceutical and electrical engineering fields to develop cyclic peptides that scaffold nanowires in one-part geopolymer concrete, which presents a greener alternative to the more widely used concrete featuring ordinary Portland cement. Because it reduces carbon dioxide emissions, lessens exposure to toxins, and promotes a circular economy through incorporating waste products, the material has a positive environmental impact. Its mild production process translates into improved worker safety. Further benefits of our innovation stem from the nanowires’ piezoelectric properties, which allows concrete to detect fractures to make maintenance on these newly designed homeless shelter structures easier. Construction of such “modules,” or uniform, stackable units, using premade concrete molds can reduce building time and improve efficiency. With their flat form, configurable sides, and multipurpose interior, the modules allow for flexible space utilization, such as in doubling as emergency relief shelter. Altogether, these design ideas offer a blueprint for a new form of economically integrated semi-permanent housing.