Architecture students’ work is ‘Damn’ fine

The Emergency Core designed by Rice students turns from container to platform for emergency shelters.

RSA-born Emergency Core wins top presentation prize at Architecture for Humanity event  

Students from the Rice School of Architecture (RSA) won first place in the open microphone competition at the “Design Like You Give A Damn Live” conference for their creation of a mobile flooring system for disaster relief.

RSA graduate student Scott Key represented his newly formed company with its first product, the Emergency Core. He was one of 40 presenters at the Architecture for Humanity event held in San Francisco Nov. 7-9. Key delivered his winning presentation on the project that began life in the Rice Building Workshop as a highly portable, easily assembled temporary shelter for disaster sites.

Rice architecture students Scott Key, left, and Sam Brisendine won a top prize at the "Design Like You Give a Damn" conference in San Francisco for their presentation about their Emergency Core project.

After building the prototype and presenting at a disaster relief conference in New Orleans last January, Key said it became apparent that the shipping-material-to-flooring concept was strong and could support many types of structures. Their product starts as a shipping pallet, but the design allows it to lock together with other pallets to form a mobile flooring system anywhere — a proposition many relief agencies find appealing.

“It continues to be stripped down further in really good ways,” Key said. “It’s funny how much stuff we had in it to begin with and how little we have now – and how much more valuable it’s become.”

Key and partner Sam Brisendine, also an RSA graduate student, have continued to work on the platform. They joined OwlSpark, the Rice student-led startup accelerator, through which they formed their company, Good Works Studio, and have recently partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to test Emergency Core prototypes at several disaster relief sites, possibly as early as next spring.

“Before we got into OwlSpark, we had no clue what to do next,” Key said. “We had this thing we knew could help people but had no idea how to advance it any further, how to take it from a concept to something we could commercialize and get into the field.”

The original design team also included RSA graduate students Chris Duffel and Erin Ruhl.

Architecture for Humanity is a nonprofit that connects communities in need with architects, designers and engineers who are willing to help. The organization was profiled by the PBS show “Frontline World” in 2008.


About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.