Portable sleeping quarters for $10, weather- and wind-resistant homes for $75 and $3,000 water proof shelters that can withstand hurricanes and earthquakes are revealed in the unique efforts of college students to build both prototypical shelters and real homes for the needy.

$10 Sleeping Quarters

John Webb, an adjunct professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Texas-San Antonio, inspired by the monthly rousing of the homeless by city crews recently challenged his students to come up with portable sleeping shelters that doubled for some other purpose during the day.

The assignment wasn't so much to actually house the homeless who lived in camps below the nearby railroad bridge -- current zoning, sanitary and safety laws prevented that and prompted city crews to periodically relocate the homeless.

Webb's effort was designed to open the minds of future design professionals -- students learning the ropes.

The rules for designing a "$10 sleeping enclosure," was to use four sheets of 4-by-8-foot corrugated board or less and some binding material, such as a clothes hanger or a length of twine, which had to be "found" and not purchased.

These structures had to be collapsible and portable and designed to have another function other than a sleeping shelter.

The best design, according to a colleague of Webb, Jon Thompson, was the most simple -- what looked like a refrigerator lying on its side with flaps that could be opened for easy access and ventilation. The sleeping quarters had several practical day uses as shelter as well.

$75 Transportable Homes

With a larger budget of $75 each, teams of architecture students at Morrisville State College in New York state used recycled or donated materials to create easy-access, weather- and wind-resistant shelters that were also easily transportable. The $75 was used for materials that included insulation board, corrugated fiberglass, canvas, burlap, PVC pipe, Plexiglas, robe, string, twine, and paint.

Designed to give students experience at both ends of the design process, the assignment called for students to serve as both designer and client. Some students slept overnight in their designs and they also researched homelessness and participated in college workshops on the issue to teach the students empathy in design.

Now on display as, Form+Function=The Architectural Shelter at the Earlville (NY) Opera House, the designs include soda can shingles, inner tube roofing, bubble wrap windows, and discarded PVC piping as framing material.

"The students really embraced the issue of sustainability of the shelters this year," said Anne Englot, associate professor of architectural studies and design.

$3,000 For Homes That Have Traveled Abroad

In a more practical, far-reaching experiment in cheap shelter, a Georgia Tech class assignment resulted in a company that now turns steel shipping containers into housing and other shelters.

Now an Atlanta electrical and computer engineer, former student Soren Ludwig was enrolled in a Georgia Tech class headed by building construction and industrial design professor Richard Martin. The assignment: find a use for thousands of old steel shipping containers piling up around the world.

The two came up with plans to convert the containers into schools, houses, clinics and other structures in poor and emerging nations around the world. The first effort was a school compound of four containers in Mandeville, Jamaica. At just just $12,000 ($3,000 each) the shipping container school serves more than 100 students through fifth grade. Openings were cut for windows, doors, and ventilation.

Last year the partnership formed the non-profit Global Peace Containers, based in Atlanta and the firm plans to use discarded containers to provide housing for thousands of tsunami-displaced people in Sri Lanka and nearby regions as well as low-cost homes for migrant workers in the United States.

Smaller, but far superior in strength to manufactured homes, the 8 feet by 20 or 40 feet containers are built to withstand the rigors of stacking and freight shipping and are watertight enough to withstand hurricanes and stout enough to remain standing in all but the worst earthquake.

Need more space? Just crane in another container.

Because of their original use, they can be quickly shipped by rail, truck, or ship and they can be painted or finished with brick, stone or other facades. Use as shelter is also much cheaper than breaking them down for the scrap metal heap.

The company has plans to build a 100-acre village in Jamaica with the homes and community buildings made entirely of the containers.

There may be one drawback.

When it rains, the village will sound like one big steel drum concert -- likely music to the residents' ears given previous living conditions.

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