The nonprofit ALEA Bridge has gotten a lot of help in its effort to build a 12- to 16-unit transitional housing development and community center for the homeless and people at high risk of becoming homeless.

Some of it came from the 2017 Legislature through a $1 million grant. And some of it came from a more unusual source: preliminary design assistance from three Chaminade University of Honolulu students.

ALEA Bridge hopes to open its Wahiawa Hale o Maluhia Resource & Navigation Center in mid-2019, but the project wouldn’t be this far along without the help of the design students, who have since graduated.

Chaminade E+ID students who designed homeless housing for ALEA Bridge include from left, Jenelyn Sison, Ryan (Zhu) Fan and Nicolle Soriano. Courtesy of Nicolle Soriano

“(ALEA Bridge) didn’t have any designs by which to get their feet in the water for housing for the homeless,” said Joan Riggs, Environmental + Interior Design program director and associate professor at Chaminade. “So, I suggested to (ALEA Bridge’s executive director) that my senior studio students take a look at how they might be able to design some units for him that he could use as a catalyst for fundraising, for implementation, for being able to really develop something for either low-income housing or the homeless to be able to live in.”

E + ID students Ryan (Zhu) Fan, Jenelyn Sison, and Nicolle Soriano were tasked with creating designs for the Resource & Navigation Center last fall.

The executive director of ALEA Bridge, Phil Acosta, met with them several times throughout the semester to share his vision for the center and to give them specific parameters to incorporate into their designs.

Some of the parameters included 12-16 individual rooms for residents, bathrooms and a welcome center with an open multi-purpose area, a kitchen, and office space for counseling. The students were also asked to design the layout in a way that would make use of the sun’s path and trade winds to minimize electricity and utility costs.

But the most challenging part of the project for the students was designing with a building material called flat packs, something they had never designed with before. LiveWell Hawaii, a local flat pack vendor, describes them as structures made of a steel frame, corner posts and interchangeable wall panels.

Acosta said flat packs are easily shipped and assembled, generally cost less than standard construction materials, are hurricane-proof, and have been approved by the Department of Planning and Permitting.

The students had to find creative ways to configure the flat packs and design alternative spaces for storage, since the walls can’t hold anything heavier than dishes. Acosta and the students worked closely with LiveWell Hawaii to learn how to best utilize the building material.

One of Soriano’s designs for a gathering area where residents can mingle and build a sense of community. Courtesy of Nicolle Soriano

At the end of the semester, each of the students submitted individual designs that addressed ALEA Bridge’s specific requests and also incorporated their unique style.

“It was really interesting because going into it (the students) were very eager and their creativity was really kind of inspiring in that they took an assignment for us and they came up with some really good products at the end,” Acosta said.

Soriano said her designs were inspired by nature, specifically the coconut tree, which she discovered Pacific Island cultures value for its many uses, including food, shelter and tools.  

“I took that inspiration of the coconut tree being a source of life and making that my design concept in creating the ALEA Bridge transitional housing for the homeless, to be a source of life,” Soriano said.

Sison gained inspiration from ALEA Bridge’s mission. The organization places an emphasis on compassion and community-based solutions to address homelessness. So, she included additional social areas like a dog park and a vegetable garden.

Sison’s design layout for the Resource & Navigation Center. Courtesy of Phil Acosta

Acosta was pleased with each student’s design and is currently working with an architect to draft a final plan using ideas from all three.

Through November, when Acosta predicts groundbreaking will take place, the non-profit is hosting a variety of pop-up outreach events on the property where the future Resource & Navigation Center will be, with the hope of building brand recognition.

The center will serve homeless, at-risk and severely low-income individuals and families in Mililani, Wahiawa, and the North Shore. ALEA Bridge’s 2018 point-in-time count found 281 homeless people in those areas.

A bird’s eye view of the Resource & Navigation Center’s future location, 123 Mango St., in Wahiawa. Courtesy of Phil Acosta

Acosta hopes that the former Chaminade students will come back to help with the project once construction begins, if their work schedules allow.

All three of the students secured design jobs after graduating in May. Fan is employed by 57 Engineering Inc., Sison is working for Carolyn Pace Design, and Soriano is at WCIT Architecture.

Both Sison and Soriano expressed interest in continuing to be involved in the project and assisting ALEA Bridge when construction begins.

“Just to see this project come to life would definitely just be a great accomplishment, of not only me being a designer, but also to see that people know that this is something good happening in the community,” said Soriano.

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