Search for Shelter



Last weekend, Kyle and I enjoyed participating in the Search for Shelter Charrette.  Search for Shelter is an AIA sponsored even for non-profit organizations in need of ideas to help further their missions and goals. Design professional volunteer for a single weekend charrette, using design to solve a problem. This particular design weekend has been active for 31 years. Non-profits across the state of Minnesota submit projects for 7 or so volunteer teams to take on.


We drove over to the University of Minnesota after work to join one of 7 teams for collaborative design.  Saturday morning we each visited our non-profit’s site and immersed ourselves in the challenges we had been asked to address.  We spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday morning creating what you see below:


This year my team explored potential projects for the Midtown Greenway. This 5.5 mile bike path sits in a former railroad trench. We were asked to look at one of the 46 bridges and create a transit and affordable housing connection along the Greenway.  17 neighborhoods participate in the Greenway Coalition.  They desire people and developments to see the Greenway as the “front porch” and orient their businesses to this unique bike trail.  This adds a level of perceived security and safety.

We presented renderings of our design to the Midtown Greenway Coalition on Sunday. The affordable housing included a sub-level that opened up to a patio at the Greenway level. Paths and patios were designed to activate the space below one of the 46 bridges along this well known bike path.


Kyle’s team explored options to develop affordable housing near a vacant industrial space, part of the Upper Harbor Terminal revitalization by the City of Minneapolis. The non-profit asked the team to seamlessly integrate sustainability into the overall design. They explored mounting solar panels above a farmers market to perform double duty as energy generator and shelter. The building and landscape proposal utilized site features and orientation to maximize both solar gains and views of the city and river.

The proposal presented to Friends of Farview included this mixture of architecture, landscape, community, and sustainability to paint a futuristic picture of the site’s potential. As this important riverfront revitalization begins to take shape, each of these factors will be critical for the success of this site and the surrounding North Minneapolis community.

Both Kyle and I participated in teams that looked at big design moves that could serve the surrounding neighborhoods and create a welcoming space for affordable housing. It was a busy but rewarding weekend for several reasons:

  • Meeting new people and connecting with fellow designers, students, and community members.
  • Learning about Minnesota non-profits.
  • Hearing about local affordable housing efforts.
  • Taking specific ideas and exploring big picture possibilities.

This weekend was coordinated by the AIA Housing Advocacy Committee, whom seek to positively influence affordable-housing and homelessness issues through this and other events annually. To learn more about Housing Advocacy and Search for Shelter visit,

To see more images from our teams and the other projects this year, visit Search for Shelter Design Charrette.

Writing and editing also contributed by:

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Kyle Palzer, Associate AIA