'Imagining Home' Asks Participants And Architects To Design Ideal Spaces To Address Homelessness

Nov 16, 2017

Three elements converged to lay the groundwork for an arts and architecture project by Vermont artist Alison Cannon. It's called, Imagining Home.

Cannon already had a deep love of architecture. And she was fascinated by the unique shelters and structures she often saw built into the natural landscape of woods and parks near her Burlington home. Cannon knew people experiencing homelessness were building these structures but she wanted to know why. So when Burlington City Arts put out a call-to-artists, fielding submissions for a community arts grant, Cannon's ideas gelled.

“All of those things ... converged into this idea of, ‘What would happen if we asked those people who are camping out what would work better for them?' Clearly, if they are choosing to camp rather than use the shelters or the traditional pathways to housing," Cannon said, "there's something about that process that's not working for them."

The Project

Cannon's idea consisted of asking seven people who were or had been homeless for their vision of an ideal home. She then enlisted local architects to draw up renderings of the homes which would become a framed and mounted exhibit to show the community.

The question Cannon posed: If you could create a structure that would meet your housing needs right now, what would it look like?

The Answers

"We got into great conversations about what aspects of a living space are important to people. Some said, 'I'm a really creative person. I need a quiet space where I can draw or tinker or imagine.' Other people said, 'It's really important to have space for friends and family to gather.' Still others said, 'It's really important to me that I be mobile and that I not be stuck in a fixed place.'"

Cannon said it was, "a really beautiful reminder that no quote-unquote group of people in our culture is homogenous. Every single one of them started out saying, 'I want my design to be one that will help a lot of people ... to provide housing for more than just me.'"

The Exhibit

After the participants and architects collaborated over their home design ideas, things like room use, number of rooms, materials used, space and safety were addressed. The resulting drawings where made into six posters and three, 3-D model structures, which became the Imagining Home exhibit.

Moving Forward

Citing her goals going into the project, Cannon said she wanted to hear directly from the people affected by homelessness. She also wanted to get the public to start talking about ways to address homelessness for those whom the shelters and other pathways to housing does not work.

"I think that it (the art project) has begun to do that ... the way we learn how to meet the needs of our community is that we ask the people directly what would serve them well. It's not at all surprising to me to find that people aren't asking for all that much."

See 'Imagining Home,' with blueprints, posters and 3-D models now at Fletcher Free Library through Dec. 31. 'Imagining Home' was funded by a grant from the Burlington City Arts Community Arts Fund.