The P*DA 2018’s Design of the Year was awarded to Billion Bricks for their WeatherHYDE tent, which is making waves across the world for their product to tackle homelessness - a global problem that has persisted for decades.
BIllion Bricks is a non-profit innovation studio that set out to solve homelessness using design as its primary tool. Co-founded in 2013 by Prasoon Kumar, an urban planner and architect, the studio looks into providing scalable and sustainable design solutions in the form of shelter and infrastructure.
The WeatherHYDE tent is one such design. It is an emergency tent made to withstand extremely harsh conditions while providing protection and privacy to the homeless. Since its launch in April 2017, the tents have been distributed to and bought by the homeless in countries such as India, USA and Europe.
Looking at its success overseas, a group of four Republic Polytechnic students were inspired by this product to pick homelessness as the topic for their Final Year Project. They joined Homeless Hearts of Singapore (HHOS) to find out more about the homeless in Singapore and test out how relevant weatherHYDE is to the local context.
What’s the objective of this project and how did you test out the WeatherHYDE tent in Singapore?
Asyraf: All four of us had an overnight stay at East Coast Park to try and test out the WeatherHYDE tent as well as have a firsthand experience of living as a homeless person in Singapore. So we slept in the tent and took note of the entire experience.
Ashiqin: When we got to the park, our first task was to set up the WeatherHYDE tent. We also set up a control tent to make the comparisons about privacy, durability and ease of setting up. Besides that, we each had a $5 budget per day to limit our spending to as close to a homeless person in Singapore as possible.
How was your experience with the WeatherHYDE tent?
Team: We managed to set it up within one hour, even without the use of a manual. In general, the tent has a very sturdy structure and the components making up the tent are easily replaceable and found in hardware stores.
Compared to a regular tent, the WeatherHYDE tent has more privacy - even light within the tent is hard to detect from the outside. It is also waterproof - which makes it great for our tropical weather and the roof can be used for drying laundry.
And to provide a bit of comfort, the base of the tent can be used as a blanket as well.
Share with us your learnings from your overnight stay experience at East Coast Park.
Asyraf: I think I finally understand how the homeless feel, especially in situations such as having to look after your own belongings while having to go somewhere else. And most of the homeless in Singapore are individuals as opposed to families or groups.
My team and I knew through volunteering with HHOS that the homeless particularly struggle with carrying their belongings around with them wherever they go. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming that they end up losing their things.
Just from one night alone, all of us had to take care of our personal belongings at all times and make sure that at least one person is around the tent.
Besides taking care of your belongings, was there anything else that particularly struck you as difficult?
Nadhirah: Taking turns to take care of our belongings was difficult. But another thing that struck me the most was the fact that access to public toilets with proper showering facilities were limited or there was none at all. This means that in some ways, the homeless are made to compromise on their personal self-care.
I definitely feel more empathetic towards the homeless after this experience.
Any observations you made about the homeless while experiencing the overnight stay?
Nurlina: One observation was that the homeless tend to be at discreet places that are far away from other people, or they may blend in with crowds. Since we wanted to approach some of them to find out their needs and pass them snacks, we started to seek them out. At first it was difficult to identify them, but after a while we noticed that most of them are alone and carry big bags of things along with them.
Listening to their stories about how they became homeless, I empathise with them. They are homeless due to many reasons, ranging from rental to relationship problems.
After trying out the WeatherHYDE tent for yourselves, how did you end up with a different design outcome - the H.O.M.E Lockers?
Team: Even though the WeatherHYDE tent is sturdy, waterproof and provides good privacy for the occupants, it does not seem suitable for the homeless in Singapore. It is bulky, heavy and traps heat easily. Considering that the homeless are pretty mobile and they travel from place to place, the tent does not seem to be suitable for the local context.
So we came up with the Helping Others Make it Easier (H.O.M.E) Lockers. This is an inclusive locker system where homeless and public can store their belongings temporarily. Since the homeless carry their personal belongings everywhere with them, it is difficult for them to find a place to put all their items and they often had their valuables stolen by others. The aim is also to integrate the homeless with members of the public, to offer a safe environment to interact and build relationship. As compared to other lockers, this locker system offers subsidized rates for the homeless and an opportunity for the public to gain awareness, donate and give words of encouragement to the homeless in Singapore.
To find out more about the winning project, click here!