Engineering Design in Practice: Shelters for the Homeless

Dyer, Mark and Grey, Thomas (2011) Engineering Design in Practice: Shelters for the Homeless. [Conference Proceedings]


How can Engineering students be moved beyond rote learning and enabled to think creatively, define real world problems and provide innovative context focused, usable and appropriate solutions? Can the design process be used as a pedagogical tool to illustrate that design can be a problem solving tool, that user centred design can provide usable and useful solutions and that the design process itself can serve as a framework for structured, iterative problem solving? The paper describes a second year engineering design project, where over 160 undergraduate students were required to design and construct shelters for hypothetical homeless people in the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. Over a twelve week period, the undergraduates worked in groups of 6 to 8 students with the aim of developing problem solving skills using the design process as pedagogical tool. The module was structured initially around a six week design stage that culminated in a poster exhibition of the individual designs supported by group design reports and individual sketch pads. This first stage of the exercise took the design groups from defining the user need and site constraints through to a review of past design solutions in a literature review culminating in a prototype design. The feedback from the poster exhibition was used to refine the prototype design before embarking on construction and assembly during the following six week period. The module presented the students with a real world issue (homelessness in Ireland), provided an actual context (public streets and parks), with real users (homeless people) and the opportunity to engage with the Simon Community, an organisation that deals with homelessness on a day to day basis. This composition of elements provided the basis for a problem which reflected real world conditions and gave the students the opportunity to engage creatively with context, users and problem based learning.

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