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Max Wallack is a kid who thinks big. When he saw the Trash to Treasure design contest at By Kids For Kids, he knew he could come up with an idea. Since he was really young, he’s been active in designing and developing solutions. “If you have the ability to help people, then you have the responsibility to help people” was a phrase I heard him say several times during our day.

He has been inspired to help people from a young age when his family’s car got lost in and he saw homeless people living on the urban streets.

I have wanted to invent something to help the homeless ever since a visit to Chicago six years ago, when my family was bringing me to an awards ceremony for a contest and we got lost. It was the first time I saw homeless people.

The contest was sponsored by the Intel Foundation which provided Max a $10,000 prize to encourage youth innovation. One of the prizes for winning the contest was that he got to spend time working with the professional designers and fabricators at Continuum an industrial design consultancy firm with offices around the world. We got together in the Boston office. They have worked with the PBS tv show Design Squad, and host Nate Ball came by to check on Max’s progress and see the workspace. The shoot was part of the organizations’ effort to recognize Engineers Week. I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend the day with Max and the crew, and have included links below to photos taken during the shoot.

At Continuum, they specialize in bringing out the ideas of people and organizations. Sometimes, their clients don’t know exactly what they need or what to expect. The staff of creative types, engineers and craftsmen are skilled at testing lots of ideas and helping select the best way to solve the problem.

Max’s original idea was developed as a scale model with the materials he had on hand. Plastic grocery bags from the kitchen cabinet and coat hangers from his closet were the trash that came together to make a structure influenced by the building styles of Mongolian yurts. Working with the crew from Continuum, he was able to use and develop techniques to build a full size model of his dome. The resulting dome is based on the work of R. Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic dome, but they came up with a relatively new technique of making each panel a cell, rather than using the often used hub and spoke design. For the sheathing material, they used thick plastic sealed at the edges with a heat strip. The center of the panels is filled with packing peanuts, making for a very well insulated structure.

MaxAndBethJohnson.jpg

Image from Connors934 on Flickr
During the day, Max met with Beth Johnson, an Envisioner, where they talked about some of the issues affecting homeless people. They worked with Maslow’s hierarchy, a way of identifying the most important issues facing the homeless and working up a plan to meet them. Max’s plan included ways for the “Home Dome” to include aspects of employment, speed of build and the structure that homeless people and people displaced by disasters can build and deploy effectively and quickly.

Nate Ball, the host of Design Squad, came in to greet Max on camera. They exchanged ideas about the design and how it could help solve the problems of homelessness. During the build, Nate helped put the design in context so that the full story could be captured by the film crew from WGBH.

MaxShowsDomeModel.jpg

Image from Connors934 on Flickr

In a previous visit to Continuum, Max worked on a scale model of his design, a geodesic dome, where the top panel is hoisted and the surrounding panels fall into place. They used the model of the Home Dome for reference as part of their Design Process. Throughout the day, there were many decisions to be made, and Max was surrounded by clever and knowledgeable people helping feed him the information he needed to make educated choices.

MaxandRichHeatSealing.jpg

Image fromconnors934 on Flickr

The build was done with the trained assistance of Rich Ciccarelli, Shop Manager at Continuum. Rich had worked out many techniques, and helped show Max how to build the design using a reasonable collection of hand tools. In a previous session, they had worked out the geometry, and had made up some jigs for cutting the plastic and bending the aluminum tubes. The jig idea was great, because it allowed for the manufacture of two important elements. Pins in the corners gave them a fulcrum to bend the heated aluminum tubes around, resulting in consistently shaped forms. The outer shape of the jigs themselves gave a cutting edge so they could make lots and lots panels cut from plastic sheeting. What little waste there was ended up in the recycling bin.

Once the tubes were formed into shapes, ends of the tubing drilled out and the panels were cut Max and Rich used a heat sealer to fuse the edges of the plastic together, making a custom plastic bag. The metal shapes were inserted into the bags, and fastened with a pin to hold them together.

Throughout the day, Max was the talent of the video, often being filmed by Jeff on camera and Mario on sound from WGBH. The video will run after Design Squad, which has a one minute segment on various aspects of engineering and design. Often they use segments like the one being filmed on this day and some similar shorts can be found on the ProFiles section of the Design Squad site. A preliminary version of the video has been posted on Youtube.

NateandMaxDome.jpg

Image from Image from Connors934 on Flickr

As the day wound down, the dome came together. When it was complete, representatives from By Kids For Kids, WGBH and Rob Richardson from the Intel Foundation presented Max with a gigantic check for $10,000. After a few more photos, for the press, and video of the completion, Max and crew moved the Home Dome outside into the cold February air for some additional testing.

All in all, it was a great day of making. Max got to work on his design in a whole bunch of useful ways. Through the assistance of Continuum, he was able to fit his idea into the context of the current needs of the homeless people of our society. He developed alternative solutions using techniques and tools to solve the problems that came up during the build. Max got to be the star of a video, and then they gave him a huge check for a huge amount of money (though he was pretty tight lipped about just how he was going to spend it). All of the people around us were very supportive of Max in his learning process, and the questions that he was asked in the filming all seemed to be intended to glean his ideas, rather than to plant adult viewpoints. It will be great to see what kinds of neat things Max develops as he grows up.

How are the kids in your life solving the problems of our society? What are your kids Making to raise awareness of the needs of the less fortunate in your community? Are there opportunities like those that Max pursued that can help recognize creative and thoughtful kids? Add your thoughts in the comments, and please contribute your photos and video to the MAKE Flickr pool.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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