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Alex Steffen, 9 Mar 04

Shelter -- basic shelter, shelter which protects one from the elements, provides some basic sense of home, and is neither a health hazard nor likely to collapse in the next weather disaster -- is, of course, a fundamental need. Designing better shelter -- shelter which meets people's basic needs, is affordable to those who need it, and could be widely yet sustainably adopted -- is one of the top six or seven giant tasks of the coming decade.

How big is the problem? Well, besides the millions of people in the developed world who are permanently homeless, 1 in 267 people worldwide is currently a refugee (the UNHCR alone is currently caring for over 20 million people), while ecological disasters, famines, wars and societal chaos may provoke hundreds of millions more to flee their homes over the next two decades.

Meanwhile, the situation isn't always much better in the world's exploding megacities: a recent UN report found that "940 million people - almost one-sixth of the world's population - already live in squalid, unhealthy areas, mostly without water, sanitation, public services or legal security." Within the next three decades, the number of slum-dwellers is expected to rise from one in six to one in three.

That's the bad news. The good news is that extraordinary innovation is beginning to bubble up and spread:

We've already written about Icosa, who's tagline (""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.") bears repeating, often.

Other designers are creating prototypes of other kinds of refugee shelters, though the coolest work I've yet seen on this is Deborah Gans and Matthew Jelacic's refugee housing designs.

For the bigger picture, there's the World Urban Forum in Barcelona this September, is, by all accounts, one of the epicenters of thought on new urban sustainability (man, would I like to go to this!).

I could go on (and will in future posts). But this is an unfolding field, and I'm still learning: what innovations in shelter and urban design for the poor do you think the rest of us should know about? Please share your links, leads and ideas!

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Good finds! Also, there is always the canonical Yert.

In my mind though, the real problem is not
just with the shelters themselves, but with the
surrounding public health infrastructure. Sanitation, clean water, etc are a tremendous
problem that must be solved. Gans and Jelacic
start to address this, which is refreshing.

Posted by: Howard on 9 Mar 04

another problem to overcome is finding land to build on. in many places, homeless people could build themselves *something*--and maybe even a little garden to provide some food--if only all the land around them wasn't owned by someone else.

Posted by: rebecca blood on 9 Mar 04

this has probably been posted before, but for anyone who hasn't seen it:

Sean Godsell has developed a design for using park benches as shelter for the homeless []

In a time when many local authorities are trying to find ways to stop homeless people sleeping on benches this design refreshing.

Also, the future shack.

Posted by: Stubbs on 9 Mar 04

Very excellent blog! I hope to be able to sound somewhat intelligent in posts here someday. :)

Posted by: Brian Kelley on 10 Mar 04

Let us not forget the Geodesic Dome invented by Robert Buckminster Fuller. His domes are scattered around the planet in their thousands, and are strong, cheap, and simple.

Some army type commented on them, something along the lines of "This is the first advance in mobile military buildings in 2000 years"

Maybe worldchanging could post some Bucky Fuller articles?

Posted by: Chris Anderson on 10 Mar 04

Stewart Brand has some amazingly caustic things to say about geodesic domes in _How Buildings Learn_. Well worth reading before committing to them as a cheap housing solution.

What Howard Said: Cheap and easily deployable shelters are a cakewalk compared to interim-term sanitation and water infrastructure.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 10 Mar 04

I've got a couple of leads on that, guys.

First, let me plug Potters for Peace: cheap, locally manufacturable design for a katyadyn-quality water filter.

The damn things work and are being produced in the tens of thousands by small worker-owned factories.

And, for the houses, - early stage prototype of my design, good use of 4'x8' sheet goods, easy to assemble, stuff like that.

Posted by: Vinay on 11 Mar 04

Fantastic blog. I've been interested in alternative shelter ideas for years, and rather than list individual projects, I thought I'd point you to some interesting sites I like:
I have more, but I can't find 'em at the moment....

Posted by: Justin on 31 Mar 04

Whoops! That should be:

Posted by: justin on 31 Mar 04



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