Austin Fleming's winning design from the 2011 competition was a backpack module that wraps around you and one other person to disguise your location from the zombies.
Zombie Safe House Austin Fleming's winning design from the 2011 competition was a backpack module that wraps around you and one other person to disguise your location from the zombies.

Shea Trahan, Assoc. AIA, loves architecture—and zombies. What started out as a friendly interoffice competition to build the best zombie safe house is now in its third year and an international competition. Trahan, a graduate student studying for his M.Arch. at Tulane University, talked to ARCHITECT about the design aspects of the contest he co-founded and what to expect in the years to come.

How did the Zombie Safe House competition come about?
When it started, it was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. It was a creative outlet for us—something to do in the office that didn’t feel bogged down by pragmatism. The first year it was just me and two co-workers—nobody else wanted to join. We couldn’t judge our own designs, so we posted them online to get friends to vote. Six weeks later we had 160,000 hits and the idea had gone viral.

How do your designs to protect against zombies relate to architecture? 
As the competition has developed, we’ve come to realize that we are talking about actual architectural elements, such as sustainability, which is applicable to a zombie apocalypse. The processes of your daily building becomes much more vital [when zombies are attacking you]. It’s been interesting studying responses here in New Orleans, post-Katrina. Every disaster brings its own set of rules to the table, which you can see in the rebuilding of New Orleans neighborhoods. This one [a zombie apocalypse] brings a bunch of rules to the table. In the entries, you can see earthquake or tsunami survival ideas implanted.

People are thinking about natural disasters and how to prepare for them. Last year we had numerous professors from architecture and engineering schools around the world using our competition as studio assignments within their curriculum. Four of our honorable mentions last year came from a single studio class in Michigan.

What’s in store for year three of the competition?
We’re making some adjustments this year. In the last two years, we’ve gone through unexpected and exponential growth—mostly good, but there have been a few roadblocks. We haven’t started the submission process for this year because we are taking more time for development and ironing out kinks. We will probably put a call in for entries in the next month or so, or we may decide to roll this competition into early 2013. As always, there will be a public voting phase, which is actually some of the best interaction in the competition. There will also be a jury panel made up of architects and zombie lovers. This year we are looking to expand the award categories. We want to have a Pritzker Prize winner for the best architectural work, a category for mobile projects, a category for stationary ideas, and more.

Why zombies?
I watched the movie 28 Days Later when I was still in undergrad, and when it was over I was like, “Oh my God. That’s amazing.” I kept thinking, where would I go in a zombie apocalypse? We’d been trying to decide on a friendly competition idea in the office for months, but nothing stuck. Then I walked by a glass house with my friend and he jokingly said that it would never survive a zombie apocalypse. And that was it—we had our idea.

And the thing is, when you take the zombie aspect out of it, a lot of these concepts stand on their own.