Origami-Inspired Cardboard Homeless Shelters, To Help People Get Off The Streets

The Cardborigami pop-up homeless shelters are great for people sleeping on the streets of L.A., but they’re just one step in a program to address the issue at its root cause.

Like other cities, Los Angeles struggles with homelessness–around 58,000 people are homeless in L.A. County, though the area’s shelters have less than 2,000 beds. Architect Tina Hovsepian wants to help with her designs for Cardborigami, an origami-inspired, pop-up temporary shelter that she hopes can provide a first step on a better path to more permanent housing.


Like the name suggests, the Cardborigami is made from cardboard, which Hovsepian chose for several reasons: the ridges inside help keep it insulated and make it sturdier than a tent, and it’s lightweight and recyclable. But the main difference between her design and other temporary structures, Hovsepian says, is that it can be used and then taken down instantly.

“After the initial construction, which is just folding and taping it together, there’s no further assembly required,” Hovsepian explains. “People can just pull it open to have a floor, roof and door they can use, and when they need to move, they can fold it up literally in a minute and it becomes a backpack they can strap to their back to go hands-free.”

Hovsepian designed the Cardborigami as a student at the USC School of Architecture in 2007. After several years of pursuing the idea, she’s ready to make her first large-scale production run now.

Using a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, she just purchased a first batch of recycled cardboard–locally made in L.A.–to start manufacturing. The organization plans to sell the first run of 150 pop-up shelters to some of the many people who’ve been clamoring to use them for recreation, as a way to raise money to start a bigger program with the homeless.

Hovsepian makes it clear that her vision is about much more than just the Cardborigami itself. “We developed a four-step path for people to get out of homelessness and back on their feet. The shelter is a fraction of that equation,” she said. “People get the misconception that we’re just giving out these shelters, and that alone wouldn’t help.”

The shelter is the first step, however. “People who want to use the shelter can be involved in creating it hands-on, because it’s so easy to do the initial construction,” Hovsepian says. “That gives them the sense of doing something for themselves–probably for the first time in a long time for someone in that situation. It’s a big psychological boost.”


Next, she plans to partner with organizations that provide services for homeless people. She says her shelters aren’t meant to be used on the streets–she hopes to work with groups like Volunteers of America to find a space where people could use the shelters or store them. She’s also working with organizations that are helping provide long-term housing, like the national 100,000 Homes initiative.

Once the first set of Cardborigami have been sold, Hovsepian plans to start employing the homeless. People who have gone through the program can help construct the shelters for others. “It’s a sustainable cycle of helping people,” she says.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.