Tina Hovsepian: Creating Full Size Structures Out of Cardboard
August 5, 2009
Tina Hovsepian recently graduated from the USC School of Architecture with her BARCH. She is currently working on continuing the design and portability of her project, the cardborigami, so that it can be utilized and help people one day.
Learn more about Cardborigami below.
Help us understand what you are up to:
I have always been interested in humanitarian work and especially the homeless situation in America and all over the world, but particularly here in Los Angeles. I have been fascinated with Skid Row and the project I am currently trying to launch is a portable emergency housing shelter. The shelter I designed, called “Cardborigami”, is made of a sustainable, lightweight, insulated and structural material: cardboard. I have gone through many iterations of the structure which is based on the ancient art of origami. This folding mechanism made the cardboard more even more sturdy and structural without using more material. The major advantage of this monocoque system is that it can be light weight and flexible while being very strong and durable as well. The main concept was to have a trailer that would be sent to a site where temporary shelter was needed and the trailer could then be unfolded and become a community center or have portions of the structure taken apart and used by individuals or families as needed. This is possible because the connections are made of Velcro so everything is very flexible and damaged areas can be easily replaced.
What drives you to continue pursuing this area of study?
I believe in trying to make life easier for others and find it rewarding to help someone in need. This mind state encourages me to become successful in order to give back to society. I am very passionate about doing things that are out of the norm if it will benefit people.
Describe how your work might impact people’s lives, now and in the future.
I sincerely hope that this shelter project will provoke people to think twice about their judgments and misunderstandings of others, namely the homeless population. I intended to raise awareness of the homeless situation by providing these structures that could theoretically be deployed anywhere in the world. They are visually pleasing and hard to miss in an urban or rural fabric. Meanwhile, they provide a much needed service to the disenfranchised community. As further iterations of my shelter are designed there can be many different uses for this housing type and I would hope that people use and enjoy having a roof over their heads and privacy on the streets.
How did you come up with the idea?
This is a project done for my architecture studio class, ARCH402c, where the topic of the studio was to study the notions of architectural skins by redesigning an airstream trailer. My project is intended to help the disenfranchised community and it became a temporary emergency housing project utilizing cheap, recyclable cardboard and structures from the ancient art of origami.
Using cardboard as a readily available, cheap, recyclable, sustainable, self-insulated, and structural material I created a portable, flexible, lightweight, and structural skin and enclosure. The immeasurable, or what I envisioned, was an emergency housing shelter for the homeless. I went through many material studies of cardboard including stacking, carving, folding, cutting, and laminating. These endeavors led me to study origami. Using recycled cardboard and Velcro I was able to mimic a traditional origami structure at a human-inhabitable scale. My father helped me build this project and I have created simple diagrams that would teach any lay-person how to build one of these structures for themselves.
My project addresses homeless issues, social issues and architectural issues such as waterproofing, flexibility, livability, cost, number of inhabitants per square foot… etc.
This was the first time I was able to truly practice architecture toward helping humanity. It taught me a lot about myself, social issues, and design.
Has anyone ever doubted that your idea could work?
No. That is the amazing thing. I know it has potential to help people and I will continue working on it until it can be distributed. I am very determined that my cadborigami shelter could make many lives better and that drives me to continue making my dream a reality.
What is the next step in the innovation process for you?
I actually recently spoke to Peter Samuelson, a social entrepreneur and amazing person. He has a non profit organization called Everyone Deserves a Roof and we mapped out my next steps together:
Find a manufacturing company who would be willing to help me make some smaller scale prototypes of my project in order to test and improve the design. I am still considering different materials and methods of connection so design help would be great from the USC Engineering school or other design schools in the Southern California area.
Continue making changes until it is waterproof, fire retardant, comfortable and portable. A great asset to my project is its portability, so it would be great for the transient tendencies of homeless people. I have even considered designing the shelter so that it can be transported on the bike racks of public busses.
Finally, once I have a prototype that works, Mr. Samuelson said he would help me distribute these shelters through his EDAR organization. I really appreciate that offer and it motivates me to continue designing my Cardborigami project.
What mistake taught you the most?
In my case, simply building at full scale was the most beneficial aspect of my design process. That actually made me realize that the floor I had designed to fold up with the rest of the structure did not work in real life. That major mistake forced me to figure out the folds for the floor component as I was building in full scale. It was quite complicated but I figured it out after trial and error. My whole experience with this project was enlightening because I had never built something inhabitable before. It was very rewarding.
What is the one innovation you can’t live without?
That is a difficult question because everything we have in our lives has been invented to make life easier, and missing just one would not be detrimental to me. It would just make me think harder about how to do things differently without the item. But at the end of the day, I love being connected to everyone via my blackberry and internet communications and I would definitely go through withdrawl without our technological communication innovations.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
My academic achievements because I am very humble about it. I also love to have fun and party a lot so people may not realize how intelligent and talented I am. I personally like that misconception though because it surprises people.
How did you come up with the name for your company/organization?
I combined cardboard and origami; now that the material may change the name may change as well.
What do you wish you would have invented?
Stem cell research. Then I could secretly make organs and body parts for people who are in need of help and do not have insurance.
Any tips for aspiring innovators?
Aim for the stars so if you fall you land in the clouds. If you are afraid of doing what you really want to, you will fall short and fail. Never doubt your goals and dreams because they are very powerful and once you decide to do something, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it.
Email or phone?
Email, you can edit.
What is the most fun you’ve ever had?
Swimming in Halong Bay during my summer study abroad session. I also bungee jumped that same summer in Thailand and rode an elephant at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. That trip was amazing and helped me to realize how lucky I am to live in a first world country. It was that realization that inspired me to do my homeless shelter project. I studied abroad in Southeast Asia the summer before my spring studio class where I designed cardborigami.
Three favorite things about LA:
There is always something going on that is interesting relating to many interests including cultur, entertainment, education, conferences, clubs and bars.
You can go to the beach, lake, desert, and mountains with snow within one week.
My family and friends are here and I hate being too far from them.