Architecture students from Virginia worked with middle-school students from Bath, Maine, last week to brainstorm better temporary housing for the world’s refugees. Chewonki Outdoor Classroom Director Lisa Packard was excited when Earl Mark, a professor at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Architecture, invited Chewonki to be a partner in the “Shelter in Place” project. “It seemed like a unique way for students to do meaningful, hands-on work here on Chewonki Neck that can potentially help people in other parts of the world,” says Lisa. “Although their circumstances are vastly different, wilderness expeditioners and refugees share the need for temporary shelters to protect them against unpredictable environmental conditions.” Professor Mark had visited Chewonki years ago and thought it would be a perfect setting for a four-day visit at the start of a working tour of Maine that also included visits to the Apprenticeshop, a wooden-boatbuilding and seamanship school; sailmaker (and former Chewonki staff member) Nathaniel S. Wilson; Rubb Building systems, maker of tension fabric structures; and Schoodic Institute, the educational arm of Acadia National Park and a frequent collaborator of Chewonki’s. With late-winter sunshine streaming into Chapin Hall, seven architecture students from UVa. sat at tables with ten Bath Middle School seventh-graders, who were thoughtfully turning over in their hands the aluminum rods and pieces of fabric that the architects asked them to help transform into a model for innovative emergency shelters. The goal was to make something light and simple enough to be quickly and easily set up and taken down, but durable enough to protect people from difficult weather, while leaving a light footprint on the environment. Professor Mark conceived of the project while traveling in Eastern Europe last year. He witnessed refugee families struggling in inadequate temporary housing and resolved to get students involved in designing strong, mobile, efficient shelters that could be used in many different settings. With him at Chewonki was Virginia Tech computer engineering professor Tom Martin, whose expertise in designing fabrics with embedded technology could enhance the structures by helping users cope with extreme heat, cold, or humidity. With fresh eyes, the Bath Middle School students offered their own, unfettered perspective on the design problem. Lawrence Kovacs, a teacher in the “gifted and talented” program at the school who selected and participated alongside his students, says they have been studying refugee issues in their social studies classes so the task had real meaning. Kovacs said after the event, “The most meaningful moment for me was hearing from Professor Mark and his architecture students about the specific ways their thinking was pushed and inspired by the ideas of my seventh-graders. The middle school kids thought of solutions to the problems faced by refugees in different ways than the adults did. Thirteen-year-olds haven’t been shaped and molded in the ways that college students and professionals have–they are more in touch with their imaginations and less encumbered by the weight of whether something is possible or not.” If the timing works out, these same Bath students may have a chance to camp in the prototype that emerges from “Shelter in Place” when they return to Chewonki next fall as eighth-graders for Fundamental Learning On Water (FLOW), a canoeing and camping expedition the Outdoor Classroom leads.