Alexander Shambaugh: Another 34,000 a Day

Alexander Shambaugh

Fourth year student and Candidate for a B.S.Arch at the University of Virginia School of Architecture in Charlottesville, VA. I grew up in Washington DC and have lived in both London and Beijing as well. I have a variety of interests/hobbies ranging from skiing, traveling, music, Chinese, and most importantly, architecture.

Another 34,000 a Day

This studio project involved a 2 month intensive study of tensile fabric structures which became the primary typology for our temporary refugee shelters. Furthermore, this study prompted a 7-day trip to the coast of Maine where we visited industrial fabric manufacturers, wooden boat and sail craftsmen, as well as our final building site on the Portland waterfront. 

During the second half of the semester following this trip to Maine, we took a step back from materials/typology and thought more deeply about the social/psychological implications of being part of displaced group of people. This led us to research and develop a more effective, longer-lasting solution to the refugee housing crisis which focused primarily on integrating, or entwining, a displaced group of people into the urban fabric of Portland, Maine. Fully embracing the nature of my site, I constructed an architectonic expression that addressed the programmatic, societal, and personal needs of a distraught group of refugees relocated to an unfamiliar place.

Escape, Expand, Entwine presents an affordable, efficient, and adaptable solution to the devastating refugee-housing crisis. This proposal is broken down into a three-stage approach that may be applied to any refugee migration -- spanning from the moment a group of people are displaced to their integration back into an urban city fabric.

The first stage of this case study is appropriate for any location and prioritizes the immediate relief to a group of displaced people. In this priority, I focused my primary goal on designing a shelter that could be easier packaged, transported, and deployed (by the refugees themselves). I began my research with the joint, which led me to grow a strong fascination with the Hoberman Sphere – a children’s toy that can be thrown into the air and expanded to 4 times its original size. After a series of my own iterations, I finally came up with a simple lattice frame system that fulfills the necessary dimensions of 8’x18’x10’ set forth by the UNHCR. The refugee shelter’s frame can also be compressed and packaged in a box one-fourth of its
maximum size.

The second stage focuses on a case study site at the Chewonki Campground outside of
Wiscasset, Maine (an hour north of Portland). In this stage, I researched and designed the
possibility for what I called “the transition period,” in which the refugees would live at a semi-permanent camp that provides free housing, medical and psychological relief, transportation to Portland, and most importantly, a sense of community. Moreover, the Chewonki Campground would house 4-8 UNHCR sub-blocks, each block including 8 refugee shelters and a service center taking the shape of a geodesic dome – to keep a continuity with Hoberman’s aesthetic.
Each service center provides WC facilities, a kitchen, a small garden, and medical supplies.


The primary focus of this “transition period” is to foster a sense of community among refugees, as well as begin to integrate them into the city of Portland by providing transportation to and from its core.

The third and final stage of this project proposes the construction of a refugee
“community center” near Portland’s eastern waterfront. The purpose of this center is to
complete the project’s ultimate goal of interweaving a group of refugees back into the fabric of American society. While this may be a daunting task, my design attempts to be as conservative, practical, and resourceful as possible. Moreover, the soul purpose of this final stage is to help refugees acquire a steady source of income, get them involved in the city, and get the citizens of Portland to understand their background as well as accept them as true members of the Portland community. The center attempts to accomplish this goal by providing subsidized housing, a career services center, a day-care, as well as commercial space where a refugee may open a restaurant or any sort of specialty store. Furthermore, the community center bridges a connection from the lower waterfront to the adjacent public park to the north.

In conclusion, this project was intended for a hypothetical refugee migration and for that
very reason makes some leaps from here to there, but attempts to maintain continuity in
concept as well as design. From the expanding joint to the unraveling of the community center’s structural envelope, my primary goal was to come up with a proposal that could be applied to almost any scenario, site, and group of displaced people.