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12-year-old wins design contest with plastic dome Answered

Design competitions aren't just for adults, as 12-year-old Max Wallack has proved by winning $10,000 for his plastic dome for the homeless built with trash.

Twelve-year-old Max Wallack of Natick spent a day last week being followed around by television cameras, hanging out with engineers and building a model of his latest invention: A shelter for the homeless made from plastic, wire and packing peanuts.

The folks at the WGBH show "Design Squad" selected Wallack's idea from more than 1,000 entries for their Trash to Treasure contest. As the grand prize winner, he will receive $10,000 from the Intel Foundation and a laptop computer.

While the action is noble, I have to wonder what homeless person would ever use this. Here in San Francisco we have our fair share of homeless folks on the street and the basic cheap camping tent seems to be the home of choice. It folds up and can be carried around in a shopping cart. Any time there is some encampment that is big enough, or around for long enough, it gets broken up by the police and everyone moves along, making this useless.

Also curious is why the dome keeps getting called a yurt.

Link via Gizmodo


I think this is a wonderful idea! It would be nice if cities set up designated areas for the homeless using these.

Well, I'm 13 and I've done a few things myself, but you don't see me going around flaunting it around. I have Linux on all three of my computers, and installing Ubuntu isn't "Hacking" it. There's a graphical installer the whole way through.

im just saying like there tons of kids that are just as good or better . i bet alot of people i know could make a better idea.also i shop realy realy cheap like the cheepest things they have (25$ motherboard) .right now im modify a pent 3 pc i got for 25$ and making a surface computer. also litterally hackd i went into the school network and turned myself into admin

actually when i was 9 it was manualy to install it . the point im trying to make is some people say he is amazing sper smart prodigy . bu have they looked at other kids and what they can do

I totally agree with you in your analysis of the project. Not to mention what a windy day would do to the shelter. But, as long as you are still young, start paying attention in school. Your English, spelling, grammar and punctuation are really bad. Unless you are dyslexic, you musts get better if you want to be taken seriously. People talk about it on the net- whether or not someone is intelligent can be irrelevant if they are bad spellers, use English improperly. Your inventions will be stolen by someone who isn't as smart as you are if you can't put together an intelligible sentence. It sounds like you can be one of those innovative millionaires- software moguls, tech geniuses or an inventor. Having you build computers instead of wasting all day on video games is every moms dream. If it doesn’t cost too much, many of us would sponsor you. Maybe you can marry a smart girl and get her to do all the paperwork for you. Take care, kid From a mom of 5 sons P.S. Please don't be insulted. Just read out loud what you wrote there.


9 years ago

Wow alot of hate in some comments and mixed decisions but perosonal the idea is great not just for homeless but for practicle camping and portable biosphere uses for other uses. The kid who designed this is 12 and I give him great credit for building. Hopeful this makes it on the markets.Well now this might make me sound a bit like a hypocret but looking in the picture the packing peanutsfor pillows can have a few extra layers of plastic so the peanuts would be a less visible and be a bit more product from tear. Oter than that love the idea.

a hating comment made me laugh
its like seeing a homeless person trying to make an igloo in the middle of the sidewalk
An igloo,really?
c'mon it looks more like a broken egg to me
so ingenious and funny looking

it would take the whole sidewalk,its like seeing a homeless person trying to make an igloo in the middle of the sidewalk

It looks like half of Moshenbuu's egg LOL :D (obviosly a Dragon Ball Z fan) well it's really cool it looks like it would be possible to fold up if he hinged all the hexagons together at one spot. and put snaps on the other sides to snap it to the other ones.

Wow, all the haters... I think this is fantastic that a 12 yr old kid is thinking about those less fortunate, and putting his imagination and other skills to GOOD USE. Of course the design can be shot with holes. Any design can be, but this young man deserves a standing ovation for thinking about others - something that most of his peers NEVER do.

wow, your quite smartacular. I agree with you fully though. The only possible way for this to work would be if the homeless were given reserves like the native Americans where they would live in tribes in their packing peanut igloos. It would be ridiculous .

i think the basic idea is okay, mayb not for homeless...but for other things, ummm it cant be completely sealed it be like crawling inside a trash bag...suffocation by dome. maybe not portable, but maybe the idea is that its made from trash, if u have to move on then u make a new one? or maybe there are areas where he lives that dont get broken up by the cops, who knows....i'm thinking mini greenhouse.... i dont think homeless are worried bout doors....gotta be better than cardboard boxes.

cardboard boxes are actually really warm. I slept in one for a week and loved it. though, would I like to spend weeks in one? maybe, maybe not. warm, insulated, not bad.


9 years ago

All things considered, I think the idea of using foam packing peanuts as insulation is a pretty good idea; the things are a pain to dispose of in general. It does make me nervous that there aren't any safety rules for such peanuts (that I know of); as people have mentioned they're probably scary flammable (but perhaps not compared to cloth tents.), plus the sort of "indoor pollution" issues if you're going to build "homes" out of them (solvent vapors, etc.) OTOH, I've let my kids play in a huge box of the things (sort of a "ball pit.) As a lot of other people have pointed out, it's not really a very helpful design in terms of sheltering the homeless, or even for disaster shelters. Those are complex problems, but at the core in this case is that a place to put the shelter is more of a problem than the shelter itself. I wonder if you can make a sort of "Strand Board" out of peanuts and other waste material? A comparatively lightweight and insulative material sort of like extra-thick foam-core art board...

might make a nice little greenhouse to extend your growing season. pretty darned clever, anyway. my hat is off to the kid.

Looks like an igloo. Probably good for ppl.


9 years ago

Why not just live in a teepee? Sheesh.

The only thing this would be good for would be for kids to play in indoors, but then its probably a safety hazard.

I saw this a couple of days before and wanted to post a topic about it, but I don't really like it... I mean. why, what can it be used for??? Sheltering homeless, look how much it took them to build just one where a kid could fit... I mean, it's a nice desine and in the spirit of green but there must have been some very very crapy enters when this one... But hey, never mind! Congrats !

I think this whole thing is much more interesting as a big missed opportunity than something inherently good. They just had more fun making something than trying to solve a problem.

Exactly, I agree... I was fun watching them build it from a crapy model to full scale dome...


9 years ago

There seem to be any number of these "make shelters for homeless people out of recycled materials, solve humanity's problems with technology and assuage your middle-class guilt!" designs. Oddly, I've never head of a single one of them progressing beyond the design competition stage. Here's an idea- donate to a charity that actually helps out people failed by the social housing system, buy a Big Issue (or equivalent), give a homeless person some food (yes I'm sorry to have to say it but money often isn't the best option, here a significant proportion of our homeless population are homeless because of drug dependencies or psychological issues). This competition and all the others like it I have seen strike me as the space elevator of the charity world- a nice idea in theory, but in practice it's unlikely to work out.

I agree. The competition is one big pat on the back for everyone except the homeless. Convincing a tent manufacturer to give away all of their slightly off tents to the homeless would have a much more drastic impact.

The food thing is a good recommendation as well. I've often given food away to people on the street. Funny are the folks who sneer and say, "I don't want food, I want money!"

I should clarify that after reading a bit more about the contest, the actual "Trash to Treasure" contest didn't have this particular use as a stated goal, just an innovative design from recycled materials. I'm sure the winner had good intentions, I suspect the competition judges picked the entry that could be spun as the most "worthy" rather than the most practical genuine innovation. I'd love to see the other finalists but the competition page appears to be down.

That's really bizarre and seems very time consuming. I like the design of it, but the functionality just isn't there.


9 years ago

I have a pile of wood chips for my garden sitting out in the snow. This would have been perfect for protecting them from the elements.

This seems like a terrible idea. You'd have to put this in the middle of the street if you plan it to fit it anywhere.

Another design by committee by people who don't know what the real requirements are. What's next, they forgot to paint this with a 1UP mushroom scheme or sell advertising on the shell. Let's hope they poke some holes for air . This is probably made from the most flammable stuff known to create toxic fumes when burned. There may be an open flame for heat somewhere. No escape when it turns into a sticky naplam. Not for high wind areas since it has no anchoring system. Packing pellets are not compressible so how would they pack this up to carry it with them? The size of this is equivalent to a four bedroom condo. For survival, homeless use small cardboard boxes for shelter to conserve body heat and to stay inconspicuous. In a big city, you can't pitch this igloo anywhere without causing concern. The kid had a better idea with his yurt. Maybe it could have been attached and deployed from a shopping cart.

According to the article you linked to:

His original idea called for building a shelter similar to a yurt - a circular structure common to Central Asia made with a wooden frame and covering.

... but then a "real" designer "helped" bring the idea to life.

As a shelter, it is rendered useless by the lack of a door - getting in or out lets out all the warmed air, and lets in the rain.

They need to add a door or hatch of some kind (make one of the tile modules hinged?), and then it could see use as a shelter for disaster-stricken populations (as you say, no self-respecting hobo would use this.

actually, it doesnt let ALL the warm air out, but it does let alot of it out

It looks like the dome has some gaps in the seams so that air can get in and out. Of course it would also let water in at the same time. And all we have is a geodesic dome.