The COVID-19 pandemic has shown yet again how designers are needed to reimagine emergency shelters. With an estimated 900 million people around the world to remain at home because of the virus, there are also a number of hospitals without the necessary beds to treat infected patients. At the same time, the need for emergency shelters is tied to many types of crisis, not just this virus or a pandemic.
As a more significant part of the world population is being treated or living in vulnerable conditions due to disasters, designers can help reimagine how temporary or emergency structures can work. There are a variety of solutions to temporary structures adapted to the type of disaster (refugee migration, earthquakes, pandemics, etc.) that can best address the affected population. The following projects showcase how architects and designers have rethought emergency shelters to serve basic needs, as well as one example designed to treat patients of the latest pandemic.
Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota developed CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments), a series of plug-in Intensive-Care Pods for the COVID-19 pandemic. An open-source design for emergency hospitals, the project’s first unit is currently under construction in Milan, Italy. Converting shipping containers into plug-in Intensive-Care Pods to fight the coronavirus, CURA a ready-to-use solution consisting of rapidly mounted, easily movable and safe units.
In an effort to aid the plight of refugees around the world fleeing war and persecution, two young architects in 2016 embarked on a project designed to improve the mental health of refugees in camps. Led by Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone and Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner, and supported by the UN International Organization for Migration, “Maidan Tent” allows refugees to benefit from indoor public space – a communal area to counteract the psychological trauma induced by war, persecution, and forced migration.
Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee from the Yale School of Architecture came up with proposal designs on churches, synagogues and mosques that can be quickly built as “Pop-Up Places of Worship” in refugee camps. By presenting immediately-recognizable sacred spaces that are transportable and affordable, Boyd and Greenlee highlight spaces for worship as a necessity in any type of human settlement.
As Katherine Allen stated back in 2013, some 1 million people poured out of Syria to escape a civil conflict that had been raging for over two years. As she notes, the average lifespan of a refugee camp ranges from seven to seventeen years (reports vary), and many last far longer. Allen argues why we need to reimagine emergency shelters, and specifically within the context of refugee camps.
Following the most costly earthquake in their history, hundreds of thousands of Nepalese residents were rendered instantly homeless. To help these people reorganize and get back to a familiar way of life, Barberio Colella ARC designed a temporary structure using local materials “to make a house that can be built quickly, lightweight and compactly, durably and economically.”
SheltAir, a pavilion developed and designed by Gregory Quinn as part of his doctoral thesis at the Berlin University of the Arts is, as its name suggests, a shelter constructed with the help of air: a meticulously devised system comprising an elastic gridshell and pneumatic falsework in the form of air-filled cushions. SheltAir’s pneumatic system makes it quick, cost-effective, easily deployable, and ideal as a system for temporary events or even as refugee shelters in disaster-stricken areas.
Istanbul-based practice SO? designed and built a prototype floating structure for post-earthquake relief. “Fold&Float” is formed of a light, foldable steel structure specifically designed for emergency situations. Developed off the back of emergency assembly points being designated by the authorities in 2001, SO? questioned where people could be housed in the event of an earthquake.