From hip urban lofts nestled into disused railway arches to impossibly thin apartments sandwiched in between existing buildings, Poland-based global skylight/roof window manufacturer FAKRO has previously thrown its weight (read: contest prize money) behind innovative housing concepts that harness the overlooked nooks and crannies found throughout increasingly cramped major cities.

The latest housing-minded urban infill concept to be championed by FAKRO addresses a pressing social issue. Designed by young British architect James Furzer, “Homes for the Homeless” provides temporary shelter to London’s rapidly growing number of “rough sleepers” — that is, someone who sleeps on the streets.

Furzer’s big-hearted concept, a concept revolving around "modular parasitic sleeping pods" constructed from plywood that attach — and detach, when needed — to the vacant facades of existing buildings, was recently announced as the first-place winner in FAKRO’s sixth-annual Space for New Visions design competition.

Held in partnership with A10 Magazine for European Architecture, Space for New Visions challenges entrants to conceive functional, eco-friendly and light-strewn design proposals that incorporate available FAKRO products. The recipient of a 5,000 euro cash prize, international press and plenty of good vibes, Furzer beat out a total of 56 other entrants hailing from around the world.

Homes for the Homeless, a design concept by James FurzerRendering: James Furzer/FAKRO

The competition jury had its collective eyes peeled for proposals that tackled “sustainable design issues and social topics.” Unrealistic and poorly executed proposals along with concepts that “focused entirely on wellness, artists’ retreats in vulnerable natural settings, or blobs unrelated to their local surroundings” were rejected during the first round of judging. (“Of these, the jury regrets to say, there were quite a few.”)

Furzer’s proposal, which hit a judging sweet spot thanks to its innovative yet feasible use of FAKRO products and topicality, was one of 22 submissions that advanced to the second round of judging. Eventually, it emerged at the top of the seven-proposal-strong finalist pile.

Reads the jury’s official report on “Homes for the Homeless:”

James Furzer draws attention to the situation of rough sleepers in London, which is rapidly increasing: the city’s 6500 rough sleepers a year are more likely to have social, physical and/or mental problems, as well as a high mortality rate. They are insulted and harassed, and their chances of becoming a victim of violence or theft are alarmingly high. This project aims to offer a safe urban retreat in hanging ‘pods’. By making clever use of blind walls, these pods offer a protected place to sleep, which make them an asset on both an urban and social level. Even though some practical questions remain concerning, for example, ownership, resistance to vandalism, and maintenance, the jury highly values the assertion that companies like FAKRO can contribute to solving social problems by donating their products to such goals. The careful and well thought-out construction plans are ready for execution. Last but not least, the adaptation of the FAKRO products is technically feasible.

Furzer admits to The Daily Mail that the win came as somewhat of a surprise: “I never expected to win — I wanted to keep my name out there. I pieced together the design in less than two weeks and it was all a bit off the cuff. But it's started an interesting conversation and is an interesting concept, so it's great for that to be recognised.”

Homes for the Homeless, a design concept by James FurzerRendering: James Furzer/FAKRO

He also views the off-grid wooden shelters, which are accessible via FARKO loft ladders and come equipped with a mattress, storage area, fold-away table surface and not much else, as more of a conversation-starter than a cure-all to a complex problem: “I know it's not going to solve homeless or even help their lifestyle — I'm not claiming to have a complete resolution,” he says. “There are many bigger issues around homelessness in London. But it is somewhere to give them a night's rest, to give them a bit of an escape for a few hours.”

Furzer adds: 'It's not a five-star hotel, but it's got a comforting feel — it's literally somewhere warm, dry and secure where someone could just get a few hours rest, particularly in bad weather conditions. 'It is a shelter from not only the harsh and unpredictable weather conditions of Britain, but a shelter from the general public who feel the homeless should be frowned upon and mistreated.”

Homes for the Homeless, a design concept by James FurzerRendering: James Furzer/FAKRO

More nitty-gritty on the prefab pods from Furzer proposal:

The intent is for charitable organisations to donate a pod or community of pods to an area. The charity would then monitor the use of the pods along with the upkeep and maintenance of the pods. The idea that a homeless individual will not value ownership, therefore would not insist on the ownership of the individual pods, likewise nor would general maintenance be an issue, as I believe the pods would be valued by the homeless community, therefore looked after and kept in good order in order along with the help of the charities to continually provide a shelter from them to stay of an evening.
The pods are designed to be made on a budget with the material applications being of a variable nature. This will not only allow the costs of the pods to be kept to a minimum, but will also allow a material selection with a colour palette similar to that of the intended host building. Allowing the parasitic pod to blend in with its surroundings. The cheap internal material selection is not to add luxury, it is simply to provide a warm, dry, comfortable place to rest, with simply a sleeping platform and a selection of ‘pull down’ wall shelves.

Furzer’s proposal, a proposal that provides refuge above the streets of London, was prompted in part by the growing ubiquity of anti-homeless spikes across the affordable housing crisis-stricken British capital city. Homes for the Homeless, a design concept by James Furzer

Rendering: James Furzer/FAKRO

Similar to spikes installed atop windowsills and awnings to ward off perpetually pooping pigeons but for people, rough sleeper-deterring spikes have been popping up across London including outside of the fabled flagship location of Selfridges department store. The presence of anti-homeless spikes has given way to a "Space, Not Spikes" movement in which the spike-laden public areas are converted by a collective of artists into cozy bedrooms.

“It's really encouraging to see talented people like James focussed on tackling the growing problem of rough sleeping in the capital, Jennifer Barnes of London-based homeless charity Centrepoint tells ITV. “Anti-homeless spikes, which have concerned James and many others, are a short-sighted response which has added to the stigma of homelessness, and failed to address the root causes.”

A huge congrats to Furzer and the rest of the finalists in this year's Space for New Visions design competition.

Via [Gizmag], [Daily Mail], [ITV]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.