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Tina Hovsepian's Cardborigami was created to address homelessness, and makes an impact in disaster situations as well

2015 Summit

Using the ancient art of origami to bring shelter to those in need

By Katherine Finnerty on April 26, 2015

Tens of thousands will go to bed without shelter in the United States tonight. Tina Hovsepian, Executive Director and Founder of Cardborigami, hopes to put a dent in that statistic. Or, perhaps, a fold.

Compelled to address the growing crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles, Hovsepian, a graduate of the U.S.C. School of Architecture, began creating temporary, D.I.Y. shelters, modeled after origami technique. She came to the ancient art of paper folding after experimenting with cardboard and discovering that its simple yet transformational quality suited her purposes well.

“The main point of why I designed Cardborigami, although it does provide instant shelter and space, privacy and protection, is to be a launching pad to get people into permanent housing…we want to empower individuals to do better for themselves,” Hovsepian, one of Toyota’s Mothers of Invention, said at the Women in the World Summit on Friday afternoon.

She was Joined by Aton Edwards, Executive Director of the International Preparedness Network, and moderator Zain Verjee, for a lively discussion about the intersection of architectural innovation and crisis management. While created with addressing homelessness in mind, Cardborigami also has uses in emergency situations.

“Often times in disasters people are stressed, they’re hurt, they’re frightened and the last thing you want to do is fiddle with tent poles,” said Edwards, adding that a Cardborigami shelter “deploys almost instantly and that’s something that’s needed all over the world right now.”

The shelters are easy to collapse, relocate and reuse, are water-resistant, flame retardant and require only 30 minutes for construction and seconds to deploy.

Hovsepian listed other benefits of using cardboard; it’s “naturally structural and insulated” and “resists wind loads and impact loads better than a tent would.” She also explained that the waterproofing treatment is nontoxic, which means the shelters can be recycled after use.

The patented shelter design incorporates the traditional “pleat” fold and an original fold for the floor in order for the entire structure, including the roof, to fold into itself and accommodate both sitting and lying down comfortably.

Demonstrating the authentic Cardborigami experience, Edwards entered a sample structure on stage and continued to participate in the discussion.

“Sometimes in a disaster you have to provide shelter for tens of thousands of people and this is something that can be reproduced inexpensively, quickly, it’s light, it can be transported easily, and, as you can see, it’s easy to get into.”

Hovsepian has also made large prototypes of the same design, which can be sectioned off for individual families, specifically to house entire communities in the immediate wake of a disaster.

“Right now, this is needed immediately,” said Edwards, in reference to the current refugee situation in Iraq. “We have tens of thousands of people streaming out of cities with absolutely no shelter at all.” A timeless art form, innovatively updated for contemporary L.A., may well prove to be an effective tool for use in crises all over the world.