Best Practices in the Cloud: Creating Collaborative Communities in a Common Virtual Space

Slot Shelters is an international, design conversation between young students exploring the fabric and identity of their communities—and sharing their findings and designs with their peers across the globe.

A youth building and design project leveraging traditional and online cloud tools to create a global dialog around pattern, community identity and local bus shelter needs. Locally in San Jose, the Slot Shelters project aims to instill a vision of aesthetic possibilities and anchor Silicon Valley with a sense of place.

Specifically, students address the needs of their local community's bus shelters. By creating models using cardboard and pattern cards, the students design patterns that reflect the identity, needs and environment of their community. These physical models are then transformed digitally and refined using Google SketchUp. They are saved to a Google SketchUp warehouse and shared internationally with other participating students and schools.

Why Bus Shelters? Bus stops are existing hubs in our communities. Sometimes they have shelters over them and sometimes they do not. How can you creatively re-envisioned shelters so that these waiting spots become something more for your community? How can the bus shelter you create address contemporary needs of your community?

In the process of creating and drafting these designs, students become more aware of their visual environment, more in touch with the needs of their local community, and more familiar with the design prototyping process. The digital component to the project includes 3D, digital bus shelters in a shared Google SketchUp warehouse, a downloadable online ISSUU Slot Shelters Kit, and a library of design/pattern cards for other users to print out and utilize in the and construction of their own structures.


Currently, participating students are 4th, 5th and 6th graders from Azerbaijan, Hawaii, Utah, Washington State, San Jose and Cupertino.  In September, with the launch of the Seeking Shelter Design Challenge at the 2012 ZERO1 Biennial (a showcase of "contemporary work at the nexus of art and technology" in Silicon Valley), students will have the opportunity to submit their designs for official judging.

IMAGINE how a bus stop could be designed to renew, refresh, and connect people. Would you put in a mini community garden box? Solar cells? Bookshelves for informal book sharing? A small business kiosk?

BUILD your vision of a multipurpose bus shelter. Use slotted notecards. Use Google SketchUp.

SHARE your thoughts with us. Share concept physical models as images via Flickr or Picasa. Make a refined model in Google SketchUp and share to the “seeking shelter” 3D warehouse collection.

What does this project do so well and how can organizations learn from it?

-Collaboration and sharing: Google SketchUp (and other Google services) helps local and static projects become global and dynamic interactions

-Experiential learning in the physical realm: the Slot Shelters project begins in the physical realm, laying a foundation for the understanding of design principles and techniques before moving into the virtual realm

-Establishing communities in the virtual realm: As students build their bus shelters using Google SketchUp, they annotate each design decision. Shared online, students from across the globe involved in the product can add designs and more bus shelters to the virtual community to reflect the fibers and identity of their own environment

-Pragmatic design training: Students are given basic training with a tutorial on Google SketchUp, introducing them to the tools available, providing them with the appropriate design vocabulary and elevating their comfort level with building 3D structures in a virtual environment

-Application of project in the real-world: An installation of a conceptual bus shelter will be showcased at the 2012 ZERO1 Biennial. The public will have the opportunity to experiment with the design cards and design process by adding components to the model and working collaboratively.

Following the model of “imagine, build and share,” arts organizations can incorporate applications like Google SketchUp and VoiceThread in their educational programming and community outreach initiatives (click here for a beautiful graphic of the goals and outcomes for the project). By engaging the public in the cloud, projects and ideas become more dynamic, impactful and even international.

Love this project, love the dual-approach (physical and virtual design), and love the effort to increase awareness of the visual environment!