Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
After the last act closes down Portland’s Treeline Stage at the Pickathon Music Festival, the whole thing will be converted into pods.
For the last four months, architecture students at Portland State University have worked on designing a big stage. This weekend, their efforts start to pay off. Fans who venture out to the Pickathon Music Festival in Portland to see Ty Segall on Sunday night—or any of the other acts on the Treeline Stage over the weekend—are bound to notice the distinctive backdrop. The stage is a perforated pavilion comprised of nearly 700 wooden gable trusses.
PSU Architecture’s design will outlast all the Instagrams from the festival, though. The Treeline Stage is only the beginning: After Pickathon 2017 wraps on Sunday, the venue will be broken back down into those individual trusses, which will then be shipped to another site in Clackamas County and used to build a pod village for homeless veterans.
The project is the work of the Diversion Design–Build Studio in the School of Architecture. For the last five years, the class has built a stage for the music festival; they’ve delivered the funky Treeline Stage, in particular, for the last 4 years. While the class has focused on sustainability for its previous Pickathon entries—zero-waste designs that employ dimensional lumber, shipping palettes, and other recyclable materials—this year’s project was a pivot.
“This is a temporary festival, and while there is every desire to make it as experientially rich as possible, we’re trying to acknowledge the fact that it is temporary,” says Travis Bell, assistant professor of architecture at Portland State University and the studio’s instructor.
“Diversion design build” refers to an emphasis on ecological sustainability and modular design. In the past, the idea was to build something that could be reverted easily back to its component parts, which could be sent right back out into the world. For this year’s festival, the class spent 10 weeks designing trusses—students built 1,000 of them, Bell says, at a half-inch scale, using a laser cutter—and another three weeks actually taking the stage from a classroom concept to a performance by KING.
This year, “we realized we had all this student effort and energy, and we opted for seeing how much social impact we could have,” says Bell, who developed the project-based program with Clive Knights, the director of the School of Architecture at PSU.
Once the week’s over, all 690 trusses from the Treeline Stage will be converted into housing pods—tiny homes, really, for veterans experiencing homelessness. PSU’s Center for Public Interest Design, along with other stakeholders including the City of Portland, Clackamas County, and Catholic Charities, will build two villages of 15 units each.
Students designed the festival-stage tresses with the pods in mind, in keeping with the Center for Public Interest Design’s micro-dwelling initiative. A similar pod “village” for homeless women is already underway in north Portland. Think of these villages as an improvement on the tent encampments popping up everywhere: The villages are managed by nonprofit organizations and designed to include common shared bathroom, kitchen, and living areas.
“The trusses came relatively early on in the process,” Bell says. “I had spotted them on one of the sleeping-pod prototypes. It seemed like a good, repeatable element, and that’s something we’ve found works really well with our students—to say, ‘Here are the constraints.’”
It’s hard to one-up the Pickathon festival itself for hippie initiative. Festival-goers camping at Pendarvis Farm must purchase a plate, utensils, and a cup that they can clean at campground washing stations. There’s nothing disposable at this gathering. Designing a bandshell with homeless veterans in mind, however, ups the ante.
It’s an move that reflects a larger evolution in architecture, a shift from a focus on materials and sustainability to social conscience in design. As the Diversion Design–Build Studio project shows, these concerns aren’t mutually exclusive. In the case of the Treeline Stage–to–homeless shelter project, one approach builds on the other.
There’s just one hitch in the plans for the pods: Stakeholders have only secured the land for one 15-unit village so far. Existing residents do not necessarily appreciate permanent transitional housing in or near their neighborhoods. Bell says that he hopes the design can contribute to the visibility of the need that this program serves.
“The more of [these villages] there are, the more empathy will be developed and understanding by the community at large,” Bell says. “If people are willing to go into one of these transitional villages and adhere by the rules, we want to be able to have the community offer as much support to them as possible.”