Exhibition Feature: [Plywood] Pod Initiative


We’re standing in one of
John Yeon’s plywood houses. When John and Burt Smith built this house,
the country was climbing out of the
Great Depression. Basically like 70%
of Portlanders made $2,000 a year or
less, and so they were really aiming at
trying to bring housing to the masses at that time. So John’s method for
accomplishing this goal was to basically
reinvent how you built a house and
he took advantage of the newly invented
marine plywood that had been developed for
boat building and applied it to this house. Plywood was actually
invented down the street in St. John’s back around 1905. The directors of
the Lewis and Clark Exposition, which was,
you know, this huge exposition that
was trying to put Portland on the map,
they put out a call for innovation and a
company just up the street, the Portland
Manufacturing Company, came up with the idea of simply taking thin veneers of wood and alternating the grain
and painting glue in between it and they actually eventually created
machines to produce that, and so it was
the first sort of production plywood
that was ever created. So essentially, this
is a modular house. We hear a lot about
modular building these days with prefab,
with the fashion for prefab housing.
In a sense this is a early version of
that. I mean of course architects and builders
have been doing that sort of things
since Sears and Roebuck houses even Victorian
houses were kit houses, but the idea
was to create a kit of parts that
could be incredibly inexpensive and
simple, so this is what this house is really
about, is using modular features
— simple windows, simple lumber, the plywood,
all to put together just the least expensive
house possible. In 2015, a state
of emergency was declared on homelessness
in Portland, and on any given night
there are over 3,800 people who are on the streets. If you consider an
expanded definition of homelessness, which
is insecure housing or people doubled up,
that number reaches more like 16 or 17
thousand on a given night, so the issue needs to be addressed from many angles. The Pod Initiative is
one way to do that. The Pod Initiative, it
looks at what’s working already in houseless
communities, self governed communities,
and then providing a strong physical
infrastructure to support a social
infrastructure that might already be there. The Pod Initiative
really grew out of conversations with
the Village Coalition, which is a group of
activists, advocates, and people with
lived experience with houselessness, trying
to address the issue. And then The Pod Initiative recognizes that there
are houseless folks who are having a lot
of success building their own communities,
which is exactly what most people
would do if they found themselves on the
street, and so what The Pod Initiative did
was brought together architects with houseless
folks and people who work in that
community to try to address the issue
through design. Right now, I’m standing in
front of 14 pods that were designed and built
by architects and students at PSU and
these will go into the Kenton Women’s
Village, which will be the first village of
its kind supported by
the city. So, these pods were
really thought of as
prototypes that could be potentially replicated.
The Plywood Pod Initiative, which is represented at the Portland Art Museum,
is the next step and it’s saying how
can we utilize this amazing material,
which has its origins in Portland, to begin
to address this as well. And so the
designs that were submitted represent
an equally diverse range of ways to
incorporate this technology for an
issue that’s really pressing today in Portland. *SO, THE NEXT ONE IS 10-PLY* *SO, THIS ONE LOOKS — IT’S
VERY CLEAR. IF YOU LOOK AT THE* *LITTLE PIECES TOWARD
THE BOTTOM, YOU CAN SEE* *HOW YOU WOULD CUT
THEM ALL OUT OF* *SHEETS OF PLYWOOD.
THAT’S USING THE CNC* Well, looking through
the spectrum of designs that have
emerged in this process, related to
the John Yeon exhibit, I am deeply impressed
and heartened, too, because we’re seeing
some of the most outstanding firms, I
think in the world, stepping forward
to get involved in something that
transcends the normal spectrum of their,
you know, of their interest to become involved in a crucial timely
issue that is quite urgent and treat
it as if it is a creative opportunity,
not just for shelter, but to
celebrate the human spirit. I think it
gives me hope for the future of the world. Thinking about John Yeon
and what he stood for in our region and the kind
of ideas that he was offering to our
broader community, that not just the design
community, but the whole culture of the
region, I think it’s a perfect opportunity that we’re undertaking now to
investigate something of great common
interest, because after all, these are the
children, these are members of our family,
who knows exactly who they’re connected
to, but they’re connected to almost
all of us in some fashion. So I think
this is, at best, an opportunity to bring
us together around a common cause. And
after all, Americans need something to
bring us together to help us remember
that we’re part of a greater whole.

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