Alumnus-designed portable homeless shelter receives AOL grant

February 18, 2011

A portable shelter for the homeless, designed by Julio Torres Santana (B.Arch. '10), has moved a step closer to production after the project received a $25,000 grant from America Online, Inc.

In honor of its 25th anniversary, the web services company awarded 25 grants to artists, photographers, designers, writers, and architects from around the world to support projects ranging from outdoor lights fueled by wind power to devices that allow paralyzed artists to draw just using their eyes.

Santana, who lives in New York City, was a student in architectural studies at SUNY Morrisville when he designed the portable shelter for a class assignment in 2006. After transferring to Cornell a year later, he refined the project by lightening the shelter and improving its insulation.

"The whole idea of the shelter is to completely insulate yourself from winter weather and to retain your body heat," says Santana, a native of the Dominican Republic. "So when you use it during the winter, you can be a bit more comfortable."

Designed so an occupant can sit up or lie down in it, the 6-foot-4-inch-long shelter can be folded up as a backpack or rolled along the sidewalk. Besides helping the homeless, it can also be used to temporarily house people after natural disasters.

With the grant, Santana is looking for a manufacturer to produce the shelter, which is made from a wood frame and a waterproof fabric cover. "My plan is to build a few shelters and give them away to people who might need them," he says.

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