Design (for) Disaster: 14 Emergency Shelter Concepts

Emergency settlements made up of flimsy, impersonal white tents could be a thing of the past as architects offer up incredible designs for disaster shelters that are portable, easy to assemble, durable, comfortable, adaptable and made of eco-friendly materials. Ranging from an improbable pop-up skyscraper on an amphibious vehicle base to quick & cheap pallet houses, these 14 designs prove you don’t have to live like a refugee when hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters strike.

MASTODON Pop-Up Mobile Skyscraper

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How do you house as many people as possible, but with a small footprint? Look around any city and you’ll see that the answer is in a skyscraper – but such high-rises are hardly portable. Except for the MASTODON ‘Transiet Response System’. Designed by Adrian Ariosa and Doy Laufer, the mobile skyscraper is on an all-terrain amphibious vehicle base that transports the pop-up tower structure to the emergency site. The concept – which includes solar panels, wind turbines and a rain catchment system – may seem unachievable at the moment, but it’s an interesting idea to work from.

Modular Housing for Humanity

(images via: metropolis mag)

It starts out as a small triangle, but unfolds into a four-by-eight-foot room that can not only withstand years of use, but can be used as a basis for more permanent housing. Architects Deborah Gans and Matthew Jelacic  created this compact concept for the Architecture for Humanity competition after studying both immediate and long-term disaster housing and realizing that permanent homes are often constructed around emergency settlements. The unit, made of scaffolding, is easy even for elderly people to assemble and the beams are strong enough to be used as structural support in long-term construction.

Instant ‘BiniShelter’ Pops Up in Minutes

(images via: binisystems)

Disaster housing needs to be mobile, low-cost and easy to erect – and all of those qualities certainly apply to the ‘BiniShelter’, which resembles a more permanent dwelling but assembles in just 30 minutes. Designed by Dante Bini, the house can be made from whatever materials are on hand, can be customized into larger structures like schools, and even floats in floodwaters.

Sandbag Structures by Nader Khalili

(images via: archnet)

“To build simple emergency and safe structures in our backyards, to give us maximum safety with minimum environmental impact, we must choose natural materials and, like nature itself, build with minimum materials to create maximum space, like a beehive or a sea shell,” says Nader Khalili, the creator of the emergency sandbag shelter that has since evolved into low-cost, eco-friendly permanent housing called Superadobe.

Adaptable Metaplate Disaster Shelter

(images via: the design blog)

A long way from disposable, flimsy tents, the ‘Metaplate’ disaster shelter by Singapore designer Kelvin Yong is made from durable but inexpensive materials like cardboard impregnated with resin and can accommodate piping, drainage and other necessary domestic facilities. The prefab housing simply folds up into a rectangular structure, making it very easy to transport and assemble.

Recyclable Translucent Recovery Huts

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Not only is the Recovery Hut a quick-assembling modular structure made from four stackable sections that weigh no more than 60 pounds each – it’s also fully recyclable, eliminating the waste that can come from a disassembled emergency settlement. Recovery Huts are also translucent, letting in lots of natural light, and if one 85-square-foot hut isn’t big enough, they can be connected into larger homes.

MyHab Disaster Shelter

(images via: myhab)

They may be small and squat, but MyHab shelters offer respite from the elements – and they’re multi-purpose. The recycled plastic and waterproof cardboard MyHab is often seen at festivals in the UK (rented for a pretty penny) in little mud-proof villages complete with clean bathroom privileges. And since MyHab is biodegradable, it eliminates all of the tent detritus usually left behind at such gatherings.

Expanding, Food-Producing Airdrop Houses

(images via: inhabitat)

What if disaster response teams could just toss magic balls out of their aircraft, which would grow into food-producing, water-filtering temporary shelters? As crazy as it sounds, this concept might just work – someday. Loaded into standard military aircraft, ‘Airdrop Houses’ are 3-foot diameter spheres made from a sponge-like material that expand up to 7 meters in diameter once they hit floodwaters. All the water that’s absorbed by the house is filtered into potable water. Once they set, seeds embedded in the walls start to sprout and provide food. It’s not viable yet, but like so many other design concepts, it could provide the basis for something that really does work.

Shipping Container Pop-Up Village for Haiti

(images via: inhabitat)

Shipping containers sit in port cities around the world, empty and unneeded. So it’s no surprise that imaginative designers are coming up with creative ways to put them to use, including this pop-up village for earthquake survivors in Haiti. Designed by Montreal organization Vilaj Vilaj, the community of 900 shipping containers would house 5,000 people and would provide open spaces, parks, and playing fields. Each 320-square-foot shipping container home would come complete with running water and bathroom facilities.

Sphere Emergency Response Shelter

(images via: tuvie)

After a disaster, members of a community – especially family units – feel a strong need to band together and communicate. Designs that emphasize socialization, like the Sphere, help meet this need. The Sphere is simply a circular configuration of connected tents with a courtyard in the center. Family groups get shelter from the elements and privacy but also companionship; a sense of community remains intact despite all they may have lost.

Almost Free Pallet House

(images via: i-beam design)

Making use of materials that are free and readily available locally is perhaps the best plan possible for emergency shelters, which makes pallets a great choice. I-Beam created this emergency shelter using pallets for the walls, ceiling, floors and even some built-in furniture inside. Local materials can be used to finish the building like straw for insulation and cob or plywood for the exterior sheathing.

Paper Houses by Shigeru Ban

(images via: shigeru ban)

Giving victims of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes paper houses may seem like a cruel joke, but paper-centric architect Shigeru Ban has proven that paper tubes are a strong, durable, cheap and simple way to build emergency shelters. Ban’s disaster housing has been used everywhere from Rwanda to Kobe, Japan.

Accordion-Like ReCover Shelter

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Sturdy, inexpensive and surprisingly cool-looking, the accordion-like ReCover Shelter by Mathew Malone is made from food-grade recyclable polypropylene that is folded and stacked for easy transport and is quickly and easily erected by just one person. It can be tied down to protect against the wind and simply zip-tied to additional units to form larger structures as needed.

Fold-Out UberShelter

(image via: tuvie)

Here’s an emergency shelter that looks more like high-class camping or a candidate for the ever-growing tiny house movement: the UberShelter by Rafael Smith. It’s constructed using recyclable and reusable materials and all of the walls fold up and lock into place. The units, which feature fabric canopies for shade, can be connected side-by-side or stacked into multi-story dwellings.