Ribbon House

Nothing gets the thinkers of MWA more fired up than when they can apply their design skills to collaborate on solutions to pressing social concerns. When it was announced that there would be a design competition hosted by The POD Initiative to design shelters (pods) to benefit houseless people in Portland, our folks were all in! The challenge:

“The (Plywood) POD Initiative is seeking design proposals from architects and designers located in Portland and the Pacific Northwest that explore innovative new strategies which take advantage of plywood’s inherent properties toward beautiful and dignified transitional housing for the houseless.”

MWA contributed time to the cause and we were so excited about the possibilities of well-designed transitional shelter that some of us worked into the wee hours on more than one occasion. We also took the time to get to know the people we would be designing for, and made the needs of the future occupants the primary driver in design decisions. The design team spent about 3 hours conducting interviews with inhabitants at Hazelnut Grove, a small village under construction in NE Portland. MWA as a whole agreed it was not only a worthwhile experience but eye-opening for the team. Special thanks to all of the residents at Hazelnut Grove for taking the time to provide realistic insight and enthusiastically answering our questions!

Information gathered during interviews at Hazelnut Grove, Dignity Village, and R2D2 resulted in the “Ribbon House” design which was submitted as an entry to the competition. Ongoing prototyping is underway to develop this open-source design further into a readily deployable solution for communities in need.


The Ribbon House is inspired by people, materiality, and machining. The form and structure is derived from the layering properties of plywood and the technical capabilities of a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine. The amenities are inspired by the creative and innovative housing solutions being explored by Hazelnut Grove, Dignity Village, and Right to Dream Too’s communities and supporters. It is our hope that this prototype provides not only another tool to solving Portland’s housing crisis, but also serves as an emerging typology for affordable, sustainable, and community-oriented housing for all.

  • To create a sense of home, dignity, and community
  • Use passive design strategies for off the grid and sustainable living
  • Easy to assemble so anyone can build it, adapt it, and move it
  • Minimize materials and waste
  • Attain adaptability of size
  • Permanent or transitional housing

8’x8’x10’  |  8’x9’4”x10’  |  8’x10’8”x10’  | 8’x12’x10’


Growth + Efficiency + Design

  • Insulated rib panels in a layered configuration that combines structure, insulation, weather control and finish layers into one system
  • Ribs slide onto a steel rod for simple, fast assembly and rigid structural integrity
  • Use of CNC machining to drastically reduce cutting time for parts while improving accuracy
  • Rib panels can be added or subtracted to accommodate different needs and budgets
  • Simple add-ons for rainwater collection, solar power, green walls, and other utilities

Layering + Modularity + Affordability

  • Combining the layering of plywood and structural insulated panels to create an integrated and efficient form expressed by its own capabilities
  • All waste is to be repurposed to its fullest extent. Every piece can be laminated and cut back into a new shape

Step 1 – Build platform
Step 2 – Set first rib structure on built platform – strap to wood posts below
Step 3 – Insert threaded steel pipe and secure lock-nuts on opposing side
Step 4 – Slide each half-rib by hand onto rods
Step 5 – Tighten lock nuts to close gaps. Strap structure to platform
Step 6 – Construct secondary roof
Step 7 – Waterproofing and finishes


Erica Blank, Nate Carden, Ian Flood, William Lanning, Diana Moosman, Taryn Wheeler, Sermin Yesilada

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