Imagining homes for the homeless

Sofia Borges and Susan Nwankpa’s HOME(less) confronts the epidemic of a growing homeless population in Los Angeles.

HOME(less) is a photographic series created by architects Sofia Borges and Susan Nwankpa for a USC School of Architecture exhibition that sought to call attention to the prevalence of homelessness in Los Angeles – a city where almost 50 000 people sleep on the streets every night. The architects present a different perspective of LA’s homeless population by illustrating picturesque settings onto the photographs of homeless individuals.

The duo set out one weekend in January to document the lives of those who call LA’s streets their home. Rather than being invasive, the photographs focussed on the individuals in their surroundings to present a more contextual understanding of each moment. In a post on USC’s website, Borges writes:

“What was intended as an impersonal survey quickly became deeply personal. The transitory nature of each person's day-to-day story revealed a life ever on the move, shuffled and dispersed from one temporary point to the next.”

The architects came to know the intricate details, backgrounds and character of each person, which proved to be a good basis for the remainder of their project. Informed by what they learnt that weekend, Borges and Nwankpa “set out to house these people and their belongings in [their] imagination.”

By superimposing different architectural typologies over selected photographs, they were able to “transport” each homeless person to a different setting like a garden villa or a beach house. The contradictory images juxtapose a glaringly obvious reality with what could be. Borges explains the intent behind the series:

“Combining serendipity with the power of optimistic suggestion, these imaginal structures and vignettes are left in a raw state, highlighting the challenges and opportunities inherent in designing for this underrepresented and increasingly growing faction of our local population.”

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Daren Borges (1972-2014).