Post-disaster shelters

Post-disaster shelters

Around the world, people are preparing systems to deploy in emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti, the Asian tsunami of a few years ago, and other situations such as hurricanes, floods, fires, and the aftermath of war. Medical personnel are crucial, but their stuff needs to be with them, and they need a place to work. Below are a number of shelters that can be delivered and set up in places of need around the world. The people developing these systems are working hard, often with little funding and driven by their passion to create better designs. These projects are all in some phase of the design process, and each could have its place in a variety of challenging situations. Each community has its own traditions of architecture, and the materials available vary by region. The designers of long-term structures need to remain sensitive to these local realities.

Containers 2 Clinics


Containers to Clinics converts surplus shipping containers into medical clinics. These robustly-built facilities can be used to jump start an existing community infrastructure, and then be transferred to another needy community as the first matures.

C2C retrofits portable shipping containers into health clinics with high-quality equipment, medicines, and medical staff. The clinics are transported to under-served areas of the developing world to administer primary healthcare to women and children.

C2C’s clinics are designed with diagnostic, lighting, and climate-control technologies appropriate for low-resource settings and reflect local cultural traditions and health education needs. By repurposing shipping containers, C2C exports access to better health around the world and closes the gap between available treatments and the women and children who desperately need them.

Shelter 2.0


The idea of storing the design files online and being able to cut an open source building anywhere on the planet and ship the parts to any other place is a great one. The open source design can be tested and refined globally. As the design becomes more successful, people can post up their results and build notes. At this point, the design consists of a vaulted main structure and a recently created end wall. Certainly, it could benefit from designed modules that would allow for right angle connections of the vaults, and it would be worth looking into reducing the materials cost. Once cut, the standardized parts can be assembled with not much more than a rubber mallet and a socket wrench.

Over one million people will go to sleep this year without proper shelter, and in the wake of our country’s current economic situation and the continual growth of tent cities here in America, it is the mission of Shelter 2.0 that everyone should have the right to a roof over their head and a floor under their feet. Shelter 2.0 is both affordable and easily assembled without any prior construction experience or the use of power tools, other than a cordless drill, making it easy and safe for a volunteer workforce. The shelters are easily enlarged by adding to either end since there are very few parts that are different. You can ship some ShopBots and a couple of truckloads of plywood and tarps and have an instant shelter factory on site, or more practically cut them all over the world in a distributed network of Fabbers.

A 3D model of the shelter with the proposed new endwall panels is in the Sketchup 3dWarehouse. Files for the Endwall panels have been created and cut and will be added to the files section as soon as a Shelter can be assembled and they can tested.

Foldable structure


A few years ago, I saw one of these foldable structures in the wild. It was used as a medical shelter for a road race in Seward, Alaska. At the time, it struck me as a fascinating way of having a shelter when you need it and stowing it away in a small and light package in-between uses. Treated cardboard could work for dry climates, but coroplast or a similar plastic material would provide general and wet weather short term durability.

The recent natural disasters that affected so many people in South East Asia and Louisiana have demonstrated just how important a reliable disaster relief shelter can be to those who have lost their homes. PVP, as manufacturers of portable emergency shelters and other quality items, has developed the brand new low cost Uniflex Housing Shelter. These sturdy but easily portable shelters were specifically designed so that they could be quickly transferred to areas of need, at a more reasonable cost than similar structures. Due to its unique patented folding design, it can be quickly erected onsite ready for immediate use after a disaster. Shelter is one of the basic needs of all people, and when their homes have been damaged or destroyed due to an event beyond their control, even the most basic emergency shelter can make a very large difference in the quality of life for disaster survivors.


A number of readers have mentioned the Hexayurt system. Six largely uncut sheets of plywood make up the sides, and another half dozen sheets are cut diagonally to form the roof. It can be built with fairly minimal tools. When the shelter is no longer needed, the materials can be repurposed fairly easily.

The Hexayurt is a new kind of sheltering solution. To make the simplest hexayurt, make a wall by putting six sheets of plywood on their sides in a hexagon. Cut six more sheets in half diagonally, and screw them together into a shallow cone. Lift with a large group on to the wall, and fasten with more screws. This shelter will last for several years and costs less than $100. It may be ideal for a variety of disaster relief situations.

Depending on your choice of materials, a Hexayurt can last for years or even decades. In some long stay applications this could cut the cost of providing shelter to 10% of the cost of using standard relief tents. The hexayurt enables regional shelter self sufficiency, where in a crisis, pre-trained local builders or military personnel can work with first responders to rapidly create shelter from materials in the local supply chain, typically plywood or OSB.

Sandbag shelter


While these appear more art project than formal dwelling, sandbag structures appear to have some good design features. Check out EarthBagBuilding and their blog for more info.

After extensive research into vernacular earth building methods in Iran, followed by detailed prototyping, he has developed the sandbag or “super adobe” system. The basic construction technique involves filling sandbags with earth and laying them in courses in a circular plan. The circular courses are corbelled near the top to form a dome. Barbed wire is laid between courses to prevent the sandbags from shifting and to provide earthquake resistance. Hence the materials of war, sandbags and barbed wire, are used for peaceful ends, integrating traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements.

The system employs the timeless forms of arches, domes, and vaults to create single and double-curvature shell structures that are both strong and aesthetically pleasing. While these load-bearing or compression forms refer to the ancient mud brick architecture of the Middle East, the use of barbed wire as a tensile element alludes to the portable tensile structures of nomadic cultures. The result is an extremely safe structure. The addition of barbed wire to the compression structures creates earthquake resistance; the aerodynamic form resists hurricanes; the use of sandbags aids flood resistance; and the earth itself provides insulation and fireproofing.

There are lots of ways to house a person. When a stunningly challenging event such as the recent earthquake in Haiti happens, lots of makers shift into gear designing new systems to help solve the problems they are seeing in the news coverage. In times of emergency need, it is important to have systems ready to deploy that help provide a safe and secure shelter for as many people as possible. The immediate needs after the disaster will be different than the midterm and long term needs of the community as the people rebuild for future generations of use. While none of these projects could be the best solution for every situation of need, each has its own merits. If you are following a project that could also help shelter people effectively and efficiently, share your links and information in the comments.


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