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Camp Take Notice: Community-Engaged Design

December 18, 2012

During the fall semester, two interlinked design courses collaborated with a community known as Camp Take Notice (CTN). CTN is a self-governed community of homeless people who have been living in encampments of up to 60 people in wooded areas around Ann Arbor for the past few years. Like many tent cities in the United States, CTN has been evicted and forced to relocate its campsite many times over the past several years.

One course focused on graphic design and the other on designing portable shelters for homeless people.

In one section of the course, students focused on creating a “visual identity design” for Camp Take Notice and its “not for profit” partner organization MISSION. Both organizations are actively advocating and raising awareness for the need of a self-governed tent city in Ann Arbor. Students in this section of the course were asked to shape a “visual identity” that represents the organization and helps to raise awareness to the public and successfully communicate their mission.

In the second section of the course, students focused on the design and building of portable shelter for individuals who spend the nights under overhangs of two churches in Downtown Ann Arbor — a situation that has occurred after CTN was recently evicted from its last campsite next to I-94/Wagner road. Other students worked on the design of larger sturdy structures such as a community shelter intended to help start a new camp on a legal campsite that CTN is currently looking to acquire.

Community engagement was integral to all phases of the course. Engagement was offered as an opportunity for mutual learning and sharing of ideas. Students engaged with active and former members of CTN as clients, advisors and guest critics. The design process was foregrounded with a field trip and bus tour to the CTN campsites, shared meals, conversations and exchanges of ideas and observations. Active engagement with CTN throughout the course was an important springboard for finding appropriate creative answers for the design problems that the students encountered. 

The past few months have yielded new insights and relationships - some of them with the prospect of further creative collaborations for a more inclusive society in Ann Arbor.

After the exhibition and final presentation, Caleb Poirier of Camp Take Notice and MISSION: Michigan Itinerant Shelter System-Independent Out of Necessity, sent an email to the teaching team:

Dear Franc and Roland,

I hope to obtain the student designed shelters promptly after the exhibit ends. Most need only a little more work to make them weather proof. It is my desire to deploy every one of these student creations for use by the homeless.

P.S. We showed your students’ work at Peggy’s house last night for the first time. A new visitor to our group scribbled a check for $800.00. Connected? I don’t know, but I am extra grateful for these copies.

With gratitude!