Engineering and Humanity Week at SMU: Students Take on a Third-World Experience

April 14, 2011  

Video by Sydney Giesey
sschmidt@smu.edu

Story and Photos by Erica Penunuri
epenunuri@smu.edu

From innovative shelters and green technology to jewelry that accessorizes the good in humanity, SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering and Hunt Institute brought third-world issues and solutions to the foregrounds of SMU.

The third-world inspired village was nestled alongside the Hughes-Trigg Center and the Cox School of Business. However this high-tech village called for solar power gadgets, student-designed waterfilters and recycled-waste shelters.

The temporary village has been home to a handful of engineering students since the start of the week.

Junior SMU engineering student Mary Catherine Corey, invites us into her HabitHut home.

Students have slept, cooked and carried out their academic routine in the temporary tents that were designed to house people displaced by war or natural disasters.

“It’s to raise awareness,” said SMU junior Mary Catherine Corey, one of the engineering students from the village.

The designs are an infusion of enviornmentally efficient and simple-tasked structures.

The Lite Yurt structure, constructed from polypropylene plastic, requires no power, ladders or tools to set it up. Even the assembly manual serves its easy-to-use purpose with its textless pages and image-only content.

A total of nine shelters were designed with green in mind.

photo by Erica Penunuri

The Ubunto-Blox (The Plastic Block House)

The Ubuntu Box (Plastic Box House) for example is made from recycled plastic blocks. Its motto, “Housing the third world – one block at a time.”

The structure relieves the problem of plastic waste and shortage of building materials for housing. It also opens job opportunities for poor villages.

Harvey Lacey, is responsible for creating the machine that helps to make the plastic houses. He got the idea after he attended an event where Ronald Omyonga, co-founder of the HabitHut, spoke. After, Lacey approached the Kenyan architect and proposed a possible solution to the housing issue that plagued many third-world countries.

Creator Harvey Lacey explains his recycled-plastic compressing device

“He wants anyone from anywhere to be able to make this machine,” Zac Hibdon, one of Lacey’s grandsons, said.

Only a few weeks later, Lacey created the mean, green, compressing machine that would allow individuals to manually compress 100 percent recycled plastic into sturdy boxes, the basis of a promising shelter.

“The blocks are light, yet strong,” Hibdon said as he taped on the wall of his temporary home.
“They also have flex, which means they can absorb shock, as opposed to concrete that is heavy and can come crashing down.”

The house cost adds up to around $200 but would cost less once made in batches.

One of the Hibdon brothers, Travis, sits comfortably in his own creation

Hibdon and his brother,Travis, spent their entire spring break compressing plastic boxes. It took them three days to put up the walls here on SMU grounds and another three days for plastering.

The brothers have now been living in their creation for an entire week.

“It’s so nice the Huntz let us stay in this home among SMU students,” Zac said. “The very first of its kind to be built.”

“You know, one of my favorite moments is when Ronald Omyonga stepped in and said he grew up in something like this, it was very authentic,” added Travis. “I mean, he’s the one who inspired all of this.”

SMU students took a moment to reflect on their time in the village.

Michael Saunders, SMU freshman, claimed his stay in the sand bag home was comfortable.

“I actually sleep more,” he said.

Christian Genco, SMU sophomore, expressed his appreciation for the strength of the structures.

“Although it looks and feels like cardboard you can actually walk on the roof,” he said. “The creator of the UNHCR Tent actually hung from the inside and he weighs about 200 pounds.”

Saunders also reflected on the total experience.

“It makes you realize what it’s like living in a third world country,” he said. “It teaches you if a natural disaster did happen, how difficult it really is to survive.”

Engineering students also showcased the water filter they designed and used the entire week to quench their thirst.

The Engineering school partnered with companies such as GE and sponsors, Gensler, Beck, Lauras EduTech, Deloitte and others, to bring this vision to the SMU campus.

Strung along the village were also retail tents that raised awareness and funding for other third-world issues.

The African InKNITiative showcased a colorful array of scarves that were handknitted by widowed Ugandan refugees.

Maintaining the “stay green” mentality, the scarves were 100 percent recycled and made from donated t-shirts.

Mothers for All and Ecochicc were other clothing and accessory inspired efforts that were there to create awareness and support third-world living and environmental thinking.

“Everything we create is under the principle of fair trade,” said Ecochicc member Brandy Metz.

“These necklaces are from bull horns and these are earrings that are made from golden grass that grows once a year in Brazil…. Everything tells a story.”

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