Refugee Shelter

I am an ID student at Purdue University and I am focusing my thesis on refugee shelter. My goal is to design a collapsible shelter that can be easily deployed all over the world. Something that can be shipped flat and assembled with few or no tools. When it is no longer needed, it can be dismantled, packed flat again, and moved to the next disaster area. I want to create a base unit that can be adapted to different climates and terrains. This unit can serve as a very basic shelter but, also have the capabilities to upgrade and implement modern infrastructure(i.e. solar power, running water, etc). I will also explore the possibility of having modular and stackable structures. Many alternative housing solutions deal with small scale but can’t cope with large scale displaced populations. My aim is to design a system that addresses the needs of large amounts of displaced people.

Does anyone have comments, suggestions, or ideas for research?

I would say start with researching normal backpacking and camping tent. All of these can be easily erected with no tools. they are also light weight, collapse flat, and moved from place to place. You also will want to do some research on simple desasters and what the challenges are. I’m sure they all differ.

I like where you’re going with this. I know there are dog kennels out there that are flat-packed, and then to assemble them, the roof of the kennel is lifted, sides are put in to support the structure, and everything snaps together. That might give you something to go off of.

Good luck!

My advice is, which is what I will say to everyone, don’t start by looking at what objects there are out there. Start by really understanding what happens during such disastrous events, then find the best thing to solve their problems. Perhaps you will find that it’s not a shelter that they really need. Maybe it’s something else.

Also, it’s not just refugees. As you mentioned, you want it to be shipped flat, so logistics is important. Cultural communication is important too. Usually, the aid comes from the outside, so it’s important to help those outside aid understand local cultural needs in order to carry out their duties most effectively. In another words, you have to think of your scenario as a collective one, not how one product will work for one individual.

The quickest, most effective and convenient thing you can do now is to use various events as case studies. The New Orleans hurricane and flood, Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, tornadoes in the mid west, civil wars, disease outbreaks in Africa and parts of Asia. Every of those events is unique, and mostly commonly, refugees don’t just need a shelter for weeks. They need it for years. From my observation, the more developed the society is, the longer they will need the shelters, because the complicated administration infrastructure does not allow them to simply build a new home as they wish. They will often need to wait for funds to be approved and so on, which can take years.

Another thing I would focus on is, how do you help people to get to that centralized location where you will be sending your products to?

You should also look at this organization “Architecture for Humanity” and analyze how they operate. First, every project they work on is unique, so in order to create a sustainable structure, they have to design and build it locally, so they don’t have a pre-fab solution at all. It’s also important to study how they carry out their projects. Very often they let the local opinions lead them in their designs, therefore it’s little about the designer and all about the community. So it’s not about what you want, which is also why I mentioned that it may not be a shelter that these people really need.

There are way too many people out there who think they know what the world needs, then end up creating nothing more than a gadget that only works on someone’s design blog. You have picked a very specific target group, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to focus on the right research direction. A lot of people have volunteered in various disaster relief events. I am sure it’s not hard to find them. So hunt them down and interview them. You may even be able to contact the refugees too. Even when you live in North America, you may not be as distant from refugees as you would expect.

maybe look at a flat patern made out of that plastic cardboard material they make political campaign signs out of. if you can develop a system where that could be water proof, that might be your ticket right there. light weight, folds flat, but the cost of the plastic may be too much cuz of oil costs. you can also try Tyvek. Good luck, post some pics when youre done please, you’ve sparked my interest.
EB