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Shelter - IcosaPods
Alex Steffen, 12 Nov 03

"If we must live in a world where people are forced to live in cardboard boxes, then someone should at least invent a better box."

Icosa Village is building better boxes. Their IcosaPods come as flats of cardboard which fit together to form geodesic domes. Easily built, weather resistant, providing shelter and shade, lasting several years but 100% recyclable, they're what we'd be airdropping to refugees by the hundreds of thousands if we had half a clue. They also look cool. I'd love to have one for our land up north.

The drawback? The price. A "mid-life" fire-retardant "DecaPod" (the larger size) runs $6,000. That's a bit much for a relief agency or an amateur enthusiast such as myself. However, you might be able to get your hands on one a little more cheaply, if you're willing to play on Icosa's beta team. People willing to test new iterations can get a mid-life standard IcoPod for just over $1,000.

At that price, they're still not ready to be loaded on pallets and dropped into a disaster area. But they're getting there. More importantly, IcosaPods show what designers are capable of when they apply modern technology and their talent to meeting basic human needs. IcosaPods may not house the hundreds of millions of new refugees we're told to expect over the next two decades, but I suspect something like them will.

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A problem: relief agencies aren't interested in semi-permanent housing, especially not something that's potentially comfortable.

...they want tarps. Because they want the refugees to go back where they came from as soon as possible.

History is FULL of well-meaning designers with nifty survival shelters, none of which have been taken up by the relief agencies, because none of them are as flexible, cheap and uncomfortable as a simple tarp.

Posted by: mithra on 15 Nov 03

Er... BS. The Rocky Mountain Institute did a charette specifically on trying to make much better shelters for refugees. Yes, portability is important if people are going to be resettled, but making more comfortable habitats is also important to people. has some pictures and diagrams of my design for such a shelter. And it's an order of magnitude cheaper than a Hexapod, although at an earlier stage of development.

Posted by: Vinay on 15 Nov 03

Oooo. I want a hexayurt. Very cool.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 15 Nov 03

Oh, and by the way, do you have a link to the RMI charette results?

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 15 Nov 03

Sadly, Mithra is correct about some of the challenges related to getting Relief Organizations interested in alternatives to tents. A recent article in the New York Times Weekend Magazine, noted that two factors play a role; 1) a desire of some relief agencies to not make refugees “too comfortable” (SIC!), and 2) the strength of the relief-tent manufacturer's lobby.

Vinay is correct that it is psychologically important to provide people (especially those who are experiencing very stressful circumstances) with dignified shelter. His Hexayurts are very cool. I applaud his efforts.

I would suggest that there is room for many alternative solutions to semi-permanent shelter, and that that those shelters have to be tailored to the application.

Canvas tents are a great, cheap, short-term solution. But they tend to rot and the fabric gradually disintegrates under UV. And like a tarp or plastic sheet, they are only one step from being completely exposed to the elements both physically and psychologically.

A rigid single-walled structure like the HexaYurt will be cheaper than one of Icosa Village’s double-walled IcoPods or DecaPods. But it will be less warm in the winter and less cool in the summer, and it’s darker and less airy than a Pod. And unless I’m missing something, structurally it will face snow-load challenges. On the other hand and you can’t pack a 300-pound IcoPod or a 760-pound DecaPod on your back. So it’s all about understanding what problem under which conditions the shelter is trying to solve. We believe that our Pods are appropriate as long-term, four-season, semi-permanent shelters. We believe they are appropriate housing for communities constructed for multi-year habitation under severe weather conditions in locations with good access.

The initial post about the Pods was a little off about pricing. In volume purchases, our 4-season, five-year IcoPod is $842 and our 5-year DecaPod is available for $2,120. That's less than the $6,000 mentioned, but still significantly higher than we’d like to see them and prohibitively high for relief applications except in wealthy countries. If one manufactures abroad, costs drop substantially. But one needs to be careful about sweatshop conditions. Our strategy to reduce manufacturing costs is to partner with local manufacturers in emerging economies, license our technology to them, and help them not only produce cost-effective shelters, but stimulate their own economies.

Check out Icosa Village’s websites for lots of other news.

Posted by: Markus Robinson on 15 Nov 03

For what it's worth, the Hexayurt (small size) costs about $50 in materials. The large size (160 square feet) costs about $200 in materials.

The cutting system is **super** simple also: cuts all the way across a 4x8 sheet, no funky angles, nothing.

Markus - I've been thinking about contacting you guys about possibly using the Hexayurt geometry for some kind of low-end product. I don't think it's really nearly up to the kind of long term use you're imagining - the geometry is very, very much simpler - but it does have the possibility of actually doing the manufacture on site: you ship out sea containers of components and hand tools and they're simple enough for people to actually be quickly trained in how to cut and assemble them.

I'm **definitely** not interested in making any money from the design, nor do I have the skills to produce them. But I do think that a much lower cost option could contribute significantly to your product line.

Want to talk?

Posted by: Vinay on 15 Nov 03

Looking for peeps wanting to combine purcha$e # for "small, bulk buy" of PODS.
cell) 702 808 2388
hm ) 702 432 8468
mssg) 702 222 6868
Vegas. into building safe bases all over world.
got game/heart? call! currenty doing Earthbag/Cob @ Lake Mead on 50.- a month land off Ebay. LOL
Note to self: be aware of Tetonic plates, fallout patterns, etc...Not to hold on to life, per se, yet create it, build, defered of the common lameness abound.
I want some PODS. U too? lets "stack chips and let it ride" ! ? ;) (w combined order#) (Thereby cheaper for all parties) (Recrute/network ur peeps) (posted 1-1-04)

Posted by: matt chase on 31 Dec 03

I recently viewed a TechTV show on inventors and saw the PODS for the first time. I was very impressed needless to say. Just to bring the pricing details up to date here is information from their website that reflects some differences from previous posts.

"We currently offer our IcoPods and DecaPods in two longevity and two fire-retardant formats.

SHORT-LIFE PODS: Our "Short-life" Pods are designed for short-term use in a dry environment. These are not 4-season shelters and will not tolerate extended exposure to wet conditions or high humidity. They are ideal for events lasting a few days or weeks under dry conditions.

MID-LIFE PODS: Our "Mid-life" Pods have an expected lifetime of up to five years under outdoor 4-season conditions.

FIRE-RETARDANT OPTIONS: Mid-Life Pods can be purchased in either Fire-Retardant or Non-Fire-Retardant formats.

PRICING: Retail pricing is as shown. Volume discounts, and discounts for humanitarian applications are available.


Short-Life ...................... $899.00
Mid-Life ...................... $1,599.00
Mid-Life Fire-Retardant .. $1,999.00


Short-Life .................... $2,499.00
Mid-Life ...................... $3,999.00
Mid-Life Fire-Retardant .. $5,999.00"


Posted by: Richard Morgan on 12 Feb 04



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