Noted Fresno architect Art Dyson is working with California State University, Fresno to tackle one of the region’s biggest challenges – homelessness – by having students design and build emergency shelters using recycled materials to promote environmental sustainability.

The project is funded by the Office of the Provost through a $20,000 grant to the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. It brings together students in the interior design program within Arts and Humanities and in the Lyles College of Engineering’s Construction Management Program.

The instructor of record is Dyson, who has been teaching interior design at Fresno State. Dyson is an award winning architect whose work includes the permanent campus home of University High School, which has been housed at Fresno State in temporary buildings for 10 years.

He conceived the homeless shelter project as a practical answer to the need to house a homeless population that has expanded because of the economic downturn and to divert recyclable material from landfills.

After Dyson talked last year with Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, she took his idea forward as part of the university’s longstanding commitment to work with the community on its biggest issues. A key component of that community engagement is having students put their classroom training into action to resolve challenges.

Samiian said she wanted to move quickly to establish a class where students could gain experience and the homes could be built to help mitigate a growing community problem. She enlisted Dr. Manoochehr Zoghi, who chairs the Department of Construction Management, to bring his students’ building expertise into the equation.

About 50 students in interior design and construction management courses, worked on the shelters during the spring semester, crafting small houses of wood pallets, cardboard, scrap lumber and even can lids, Samiian said.

After the work is completed, the buildings will be relocated where they can be occupied to determine whether they meet the needs of the homeless and the community.

Dyson’s vision is to establish villages of shelters with central bath and cooking facilities, where people would work together in gardens or producing goods that could be sold to help sustain themselves. If that comes to pass, Dyson believes, other Fresno State academic disciplines might be brought into the picture, including anthropology and sociology.

For more information contact Samiian at 559.278.3056 or

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