Three CPID Micro-Housing Designs for Houseless Portlanders


Project Origin

In response to a declared state of emergency on homelessness in Portland, the CPID began working with partners in the Village Coalition on the The Partners On Dwelling (POD) Initiative. The POD Initiative recognizes that: a) informal “villages” being established by the houseless themselves were finding incredible success in creating vibrant, safe, supportive, and self-governing communities and could serve as a replicable model. b) Design is an unmet need that has a significant role to play to aid these efforts and those of the Village Coalition. c) Initiatives to change perceptions about homelessness among Portlanders would be essential for the success of any effort that integrated houseless individuals into Portland’s central city fabric. The POD Initiative aims to activate Portland’s design community to address homelessness.

The POD Initiative asks the architecture and design community to apply their skills and experience in shaping the built environment toward housing Portland’s most vulnerable population- the homeless. Following a community charrette with over one hundred stakeholders in attendance including people with lived experience with houselessness, designers formed teams to design and build prototypes for pods. Fourteen teams were formed, consisting of some of the leading architecture firms in Portland and three from the Center for Public Interest Design.


Project Description

In addition to organizing the POD Initiative with partners in the Village Coalition like City Repair, the CPID was involved in the design and construction of three pods. Sleeping pods are categorized by the city as structures with a footprint of between 6’x8’ and 8’x12’, and as tall as 10’8”. Additional requirements for structural stability, insulation, and windows/doors are similar to those of ADUs and other structures, but they rely on a village model with shared bathroom and cooking facilities. While they are not plumbed or wired for electricity, there are opportunities to equip the pods with solar panels in the future.  

 Each pod provided opportunities to explore different issues and design strategies, from size and construction methods to material investigations and different sustainability approaches. The Cocoon Pod (8’x8’) explored opportunities for material recovery and reuse through an exploratory process based on various stages of shelter. The Trot Pod (8’x12’) is a pod resulting from an architecture studio that engaged a range of stakeholders and issues in the design process. The NW Pod (6’x8’) worked with partners from Neighborhood Works Realty to explore issues of flexibility, modularity, and material efficiency for a pod that can be built extremely quickly. Below you can read more about each pod in detail. 



Portland, Oregon, United States



Village Coalition    City Repair
Communitecture  Open Architecture ReBuilding Center  Portland Mayor's Office The Larson Legacy

Other POD Design-Build Teams:                   SERA Architects, Holst Architecture, Mackenzie, SRG Partnership, Scott Edwards Architecture, MoMaMa, Communitecture, LRS Architects,  Mods PDX + Shelter Wise, Architects Without Borders-OR, & City Repair

To read more about the Partners On Dwelling (POD) Initiative, please visit:


Led by Visiting CPID Faculty Fellow Dr. Pedro Pacheco, the Cocoon Pod team explored a range of issues including various stages of shelter, the ability to expand, and material reuse. The team sought to reflect the values of the Center for Public Interest Design: to turn research into action to address social, economic, and environmental concerns while serving underserved populations.

The Cocoon Pod emphasizes the by-products from industrial processes, such as reclaimed wood, straw insulation, and salvaged plywood. Approximately 20% of Portland’s waste in landfills comes from building construction and demolition, and this prototype responds to that reality. To that end, the most striking feature of the pod is a full window wall made of discarded glass cabinet doors attached to a tree-like frame. As an additional layer of insulation and customization, a local quilting group created a customized quilt to cover the glass wall when desired. The quilt echoes traditional ceremonies of welcoming a newcomer into a community. We would love to see the larger community that hosts a village craft a quilt for each pod.

The Cocoon Pod derives its name from team concepts into how the structure might begin as a small unit to provide immediate shelter and expand over time for longer-term residence. The roof is hinged to be able to open for vertical expansion in the future, while still remaining low enough for transport in its lowered position. The pod is 8’x8’, with a 4’x8’ covered porch.




The Trot Pod was designed by fifteen PSU Architecture students in their penultimate undergraduate studio. The studio taught by CPID Faculty Fellow Todd Ferry aimed to study Portland through the lens of a houseless Portlander. Students researched and mapped topics related to homelessness such as urban amenities and resources, village precedents, city laws and codes, and root causes of homelessness. Every student then created an individual design for a pod and village before working together on a collective design proposal. As part of the studio process, students interacted with a range of stakeholders from the Mayor of Portland to people with lived experience with houselessness that consulted on the designs.

Responding to desires and issues that were discussed in a design charrette with houseless individuals and advocates, students settled on a design that aimed to include details such as a thoughtful division of space, storage systems, an abundance of light, multiple operable windows, and a porch. The design echoes the icon of a house with a gable roof, which is clad in black standing seam metal that wraps down along the walls as well. A translucent white polycarbonate window and skylight create a strip of diffused light in the pod that brightens both the bed area and table/desk nook. Copper piping and reclaimed wood interact to create shelves, table tops, hanging racks, and a foot rest. The pod takes advantage of the largest allowable footprint (8’x12’), which includes a 4’x4’ porch.

The pod gets its name from both the studio’s proposed site for a village and concepts related to their aggregation and expansion. The pod is designed to work well independently, but also to work in a pair with a shared porch similar to a typology known as a dogtrot. Two neighbors could share the porch, or the pods could be connected to accommodate a family. The proposed site is an undeveloped plot of land that the Overlook neighborhood in North Portland uses as an informal dog park. Negotiating the space between the neighborhood and a heavy industrial area immediately to the west, the village builds community around the shared love of dogs, which are common companions of houseless individuals. While this site and others used in the studio’s village designs are only theoretical, the work will inform the site design of a future village currently being planned by the City of Portland.



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The Center for Public Interest Design partnered with Neighborhood Works Realty on the creation of a third pod that explored issues of flexibility, modularity, material efficiency, and customization options. By necessity, it was also designed to be a prototype that could be built quickly, as the team assembled just one week before the pod needed to be completed in order to fill in for a team that was not able to build a pod as planned at the last minute. Fortunately, the Neighborhood Works Realty team led Bob and Jarrett Altman stepped up to ensure that more Portlanders would be sheltered.

The NW Pod explores the smallest allowable footprint for a pod at 6’x8’, with an independent 4’x6’ deck. Community partners are interested in exploring opportunities for this size due to the ease of transporting them and the possibilities for occupying a variety of potential village sites. Additionally, this size would allow local religious and nonprofit organizations to host clusters of pods in their parking lots without obstructing circulation.

 The design relies on dimensions that maximize materials and simplify construction:

  • Walls and roofs accommodate full sheets of plywood and metal siding under the clerestory without the need to make cuts
  • Metal siding wraps corners to eliminate the need for cuts and takes full advantage of the material dimension
  • 12-foot 2’x8’ rafters allow for better insulation and use the lumber’s full length
  • Full 12-foot sheets of metal are used for the roofing
  • Double-wall polycarbonate is used for clerestory, strip, and operable door windows, illuminating the structure and eliminating several steps in the window framing process.
  • Durable interlocking rubber floor tiles are utilized for an easy to install floor that provides a soft surface for potential visitors sleeping over

With such a small footprint, the interior was designed to maximize flexibility and usage. Bob Altman and PSU student Brennan Aitken-Gantz took a proposal for flexible interior space and designed a light-weight system of hinged torsion boxes for both the bed and table/privacy screen. The bed folds under a fixed shelf and rests on two square storage stools that pivot open. An assortment of pegs both support the table and provide hanging storage throughout to pod.  

Next Steps

The proposed site is for these 3 and the other 11 pods is in the North Portland neighborhood of Kenton. The proposal is that the village of these 14 pods and shared facilities will consist of a community of all women and be operated through a collaboration between Catholic Charities and the Joint Office of Homeless Services. The City is working with the Village Coalition, The CPID & POD Initiative, and the Kenton Neighborhood Association (among others) to ensure that this pilot project is successful and can serve as a model for future initiatives of this kind throughout Portland.