2. Research:

Areas of opportunity in emergency shelter design

Analysis of Design Precedents

Existing solutions are too bulky, too heavy, too expensive, too difficult to assemble, and/or too slow to arrive and construct to serve as effective emergency shelters.

Many existing shelter proposals are for what the IFRC considers transitional or durable housing.

The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) refers to several types of shelters such as emergency shelter, transitional shelter, progressive shelter, and permanent shelter. These types of shelters are classified by their relationship to time, cost, and sustainability. Although IFRC specifies that these types are not standardized, it shows how cost, time, and weight are increased as a better and stronger shelter is built.

All of these solutions necessarily require hard trade-off between cost, usability, durability, comfort, and other factors.

The six examples discussed below suitable for longer term shelter if time and budget permit, but shelters after a disaster occurs, not 48hours or two weeks after.

Shigeru Ban's paper tubing emergency shelters for Rwanda, 1994


In Rwanda in 1994, 50 emergency shelters by Ban Shigeru, a Japanese architect, were built that used paper tubes for structure material. Due to the specific features of the building material, it was low-cost and remarkably light for transportation. However, the design of the emergency shelter design was not considered for other aspects, such as wet ground under heavy rain. In order to keep the victims’ living space dry, the shelter should be lifted up from the ground, but the shelters were located directly on the ground. The paper tube structure just covered the wall and ceiling, while the foundation was just plastic sheet that met the ground.


Advantage: inexpensive, light weight.

Disadvantage: unmet to evacuate from running rain water


Shigeru Ban's paper tubing emergency shelters for Turkey and India, 2000-2001


His second group of shelters, Paper Log House, located in Turkey and India, were improved in 2000 and 2001 by using plastic beer boxes as the foundation to overcome the issue that previous shelters had. However, gathering and delivering a considerable amount of the plastic boxes for the shelter in a short amount of time is never easy for victims or supporters under urgent situations.


Advantage: inexpensive, durable, light weight.

Disadvantage: inaccessibility (hard to get tons of plastic boxes)

Reaction Inc's proposed EXO shelter, 2008


The shelter named EXO suggested the hi-tech shelter that  installed digital equipment such as an automatic switch or  safe lock. The feature of the shelter is durable, ready-made, and stackable like paper cups for transportation. As well, the digital devices installed at the shelter provide the victims safe, convenient, and cozy living spaces.

However, problems with the EXO include the high price (at least 3,000 U.S. dollars), and the cost of the shelter with the full option is 5,000 U.S. dollars. It consequently gives financial burden to organizations of first response for the natural disaster.

The  shelter EXO can be separated into two parts.  This includes the shell (375lbs/170kg) and the base (325lbs/147kg), so the total  weight of the shelter reaches 700lbs (317kg).


Advantage: durable, stackable for shipping, comfortable.

Disadvantage: heavy, expensive.

Image Resource: http://www.reactioninc.com/exo/tech-specs

Charles Lai and Takehiko Suzukiin, bamboo emergency shelter, Nepal, 2015


Given emergency situation, the appropriate technology, such as local construction technologies, house designs, and cultural preferences, should apply to any shelter solutions. The shelter made of bamboos in Nepal in 2015 meets the suggestion of IRFC to apply local environment to rapid and effective building of shelters for affected populations that live in barren areas.


Since they used the local material bamboo for frame and light joints, such as cable ties and wire, the price could not only be reduced but also the time could be shortened remarkably. They, however, still have challenges that they deal with. While the building time is 2-3 days, the survivor from a natural disaster may have no place to stay during day. In addition, they need to consider the time to get cladding salvage, such as metal sheets, which must be transported from other sites. Also, they need to download the blueprint online to build the shelter and need several people who can build it together.


Advantage: use local materials.

Disadvantage: expertise required, Internet access required.

IKEA and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR), Better Shelter, 2015


A shelter named Better Shelter  (supported by IKEA and UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee s) is conveyed in two flat pack boxes, which each weigh about 80 kg. The total weight is 160 kg.


This means that in the case of a huge scale natural disaster such as the tsunami in Japan 2003, the earthquake in Haiti 2004, and in Indonesia 2016, heavy-duty transportation is required to carry them immediately. However, aircraft have a limited load capacity, and ships are restricted by time. Therefore, it is very difficult to satisfy both rapid response and load capacity.


Advantage: flat-packable, durable

Disadvantage: heavy, expertise required

image resource: http://www.bettershelter.org/product/         (Photograph byJonas Nyström)

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Shelter Kit, 2008


In 2008 IFRC distributed 35,866 tool kits after Cyclone Nargis, in order to assist one hundred thousand people in Myanmar to build emergency shelters or repair their houses. The tool kits included necessary items for constructing the emergency shelter, such as rope, wire, and nails, which are necessary for constructing the frame. The tool kit, however, needs to be more simplified for improving its accessibility. For instance, the number of items in the kit should ideally weigh less than the current 20kg and cost less than 60CHF (60 Swiss Dollar).


Advantage: helps people build  and repair shelter ; weights less than a full shelter

Disadvantage: expertise required


image resource: IFRC, “Shelter kit,” International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva,

accessed Nov 10, (2016), http://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/95530/Sidebar/152700-Shelter_Kit-EN.pdf