Not to sound horribly pessimistic, but disaster can strike at anytime. Be it an earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, or another malady, the best you can do is prepare for whatever hits, and have a plan in place for relief.
The architects at Designnobis, a firm based in Turkey, estimated that natural disasters displaced 22 million people in 2013. In 2011, disaster hit close to home, when a 7.2 magnitude quake centered in eastern Turkey destroyed hundreds of buildings and left thousands homeless. Designnobis saw that the emergency tents deployed at the time performed terribly and so they went to the drawing board and set out to engineer something better.
“Temporary shelters are usually complex structures that require space and time to build,” Hakan Gürsu, founder of Designnobis, says. “What we intend with Tentative is to provide a smart, compact shelter that is flat pack, easy to transport, and practical to build.”
While camping in a tent for a weekend is viewed as a cool wilderness getaway, spending weeks—and potentially months—in one gets old fast. And that’s the situation that happened in Turkey. Massive tent cities went up and while they offered shelter, they did not respond to the environment well at all. Acclimating, according to Designnobis, is the biggest hurdle. Disaster can occur in summer, winter, autumn, or spring and each season may bring torrential rain, snow, blistering heat, or frigid temperatures. Since the tents are made from thin material and placed on the ground, they do a poor job insulating.
“We designed the Tentative through real life experiences in Turkey, as my area of study was also the temporary structures in disaster areas back in my master’s thesis,” Gürsu says. “East of Anatolia, where the coastal climate has temperature differences of around 40 degrees Celsius [104 degrees Fahrenheit], it is crucial to have a reliable insulation and isolation system.”
Designnobis’s solution is to elevate the structure and stretch durable, weather-resistant fabric walls filled with perlite—a naturally abundant material in Turkey—between a fiberglass ceiling and floor. The Tentative structure, as it’s called, measures about 86 square feet and rises just over eight feet tall. There’s a proper door and window on each tent and the entire kit folds down to under a foot thick. Assembly takes under an hour and needs no special tools. Designnobis estimates that a typical flat-bed semi can transport 24 structures at a time.
Tentative is still in the prototyping phase and the real challenge will be manufacturing. Cost of deployment is a major factor in the viability of any plan. Designnobis aims for a production price of $2,500 per shelter. (For a comparison, Ikea hopes to bring its flat-pack refugee shelters to a cost of $1,000 each.) Local manufacturers have expressed interest, but the firm is looking for a global partner.
The disaster-relief housing programs that have been in place have hardly been foolproof. And as we saw during Hurricane Katrina, the temporary shelters became semi-permanent housing due to the grueling rebuilding process and were needed far longer than anticipated. Designnobis designed its shelter to support disaster victims for three to four months, the most critical period for housing, but if actually deployed there’s a good chance they’ll be inhabited longer.
While durability and quality of life are incredibly important design considerations, what relief structures boil down to is a matter of dollars and cents. If Designnobis can find a manufacturer to produce the shelters affordably, viability might be within reach.