The Vancouver TED conferences have become a home for people who want to express big ideas. Standing outside TED2016 was another big idea: ELEVATE, a temporary installation of two warming huts inspired by high-alpine shelters.

The wood structures were designed and built by local students as part of a three-month design-build course at the DBR (Design Build Research) school.

The school is a not-for-profit institute dedicated to teaching design and construction founded by architect Michael Green of Michael Green Architecture, social entrepreneur Scott Hawthorn, CEO of Native Shoes, and wood engineer Eric Karsh, of Equilibrium Consulting Inc. While student participants to date have been drawn from undergraduate and graduate design programs, DBR’s founders have stated they want to open the institute to anyone from Grade 6 and up.

Each course is based around a single project. Two previous TED projects included the creation of thousands of wood planter boxes and the creation of a two-storey wooden canopy.

The TED2016 project challenged students to design and build a warming shelter for participants attending the February meeting. The final design resulted in a pair of organic wood-ribbed structures, built using laminated veneer lumber (LVL) donated by Metsä Wood and sculpted with computer numerically controlled (CNC) technology. The structures were shrink-wrapped and outfitted with wooden furniture to complement the exposed wood interior.

Marsha Farrow, who is currently pursuing a Master of Architecture degree at the University of British Columbia (UBC), was a member of the 16-student team who worked on the project.

The team included architecture, design and sculpture students from UBC, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

“The project moved quickly with the call for participation coming in at the end of November,” says Farrow. “We did a lot of research on warming huts around the world but had to come to a design decision quickly because we had a very quick construction phase of three months.”

Once the design was established, each team member was given a different responsibility, such as creating shop drawings. Farrow was assigned talking to B.C. parks and recreation sites about eventually relocating the structures to a permanent home.

“We had to go through budgets, code requirements and everything required for real-world projects,” says Farrow.

Everyone shared in hands-on construction work, which involved cutting the arch segments out of LVL sheets approximately three feet wide by seven feet long and utilizing as much of each board as possible. In all, 200 parts, including 16 ribs, were required to create the structures and interior furniture.

“We all got to work on the CNC machines with students slotted in one after the other for months,” says Farrow. “We cut out the arches in three or four sections depending on where they were going to be located and then joined them together, finished them, sanded them and stained them. We pre-fabricated everything and pre-assembled it before we got on site.”

The finished structures measured 16 by 30 feet and stood about 10 feet tall.

“After two days of assembly, our part of the project was finished,” says Farrow. “It was very engaging to think things through from a practical point of view, which is very different from learning through theory and it was a great learning experience to work with students from other disciplines.”