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Refugee Shelter In A Bag
Jeremy Faludi, 15 Mar 05

Wired reports on a brilliant new design in refugee buildings--the “Concrete Canvas”, invented by a couple grad students at Royal College of Art in London. There is no website yet, as they have not yet begun to manufacture units, but here’s how it works:

"[The building is] a sack of cement-impregnated fabric. To erect the structure, all you have to do is add water to the bag and inflate it with air. Twelve hours later the Nissen-shaped shelter is dried out and ready for use... The volume of the sack controls the water-to-cement ratio, eliminating the need for water measurement...”

A bag weighing 230 kilograms (approximately 500 pounds) inflates into a shelter with 16 square meters (172 square feet) of floor space. Cost is estimated at £1,100 ($2,100), while an equivalent-size Portakabin (a type of portable building widely used in the United Kingdom) costs about £4,000 ($7,700). The same-size tent costs about £600 ($1,150).

It can even be used as a field hospital: “The shelter can also be delivered sterile...This allows previously impossible surgical procedures to be performed in situ from day one of a crisis."

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I love the shelter in a bag. Here in Palm Springs California we have a HOMELESS problem the city has tried to ignore. The city has made laws that are unconstitutional and basically done every rotten thing they can to make the homeless go's not working for them. Maybe your shelter would offer some solution to the "What do we do with all these homeless people...where do we put them? " problem

Posted by: Adina Berger on 15 Mar 05

Anyone who has any ideas on how to help the homeless anywhere has my attention. Please feel free to write to me at
and I will be delighted to read what you have to say.

Posted by: Adina Berger on 15 Mar 05

These things are not a solution to homelessness. At best, they'd be a band-aid with better adhesive.

Think about it: If all you do is hand these out to the homeless, parks and random bits of marginal land will be encrusted with non-bio-degradable concrete pods. They have no plumbing or other infrastucture other than what could be stolen. They offer little more security than a tent or hovel . . . no doors.

Um, here, put it another way: The HOMELESS problem is not a HOUSING problem. Housing solutions -- ideally subsidized apartments, SROs and the like -- are part of the answer, but not the whole solution.

Handing these out would be a lateral step, not a step forward.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 15 Mar 05

As someone who has delt with homeless I must remind you one BIG reason cities deal with general homeless harshly is alot of homeless people are very violent and many of them are insane. In the city we used to live near fully a quarter of the homeless were clinically insane and violent. They attacked people while panhandling and often horribly attacked each other over favored spots. When people became fed up the ran as many fo them out of town as possible.

Posted by: wintermane on 15 Mar 05

Wow this is spectacular. One question do you take it down? The great thing about temporary structures is...they're temporary. If I have an insta-cement building it doesn't seem too temporary. But, I guess if you are willing to keep it up where it's erected you don't have to worry about the post-event status of of the structure.

All the same, kudos to the Royal College of London and their engineers. This will hopefully be placed in key locations (like southeast asia)in the near future.

Posted by: Japhet on 15 Mar 05

My question is: Can they be moved?

They might have a post-disaster use as storage sheds, barns for small livestock, and so on.

Or, dump in the sea to create an artificial reef.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 15 Mar 05

Bonus points for creating a lead-projectile
diffraction grating by incorporating steel
cord and/or kevlar fibre in the cloth.

Posted by: Thomas Terashima on 15 Mar 05

On the face of things, these insta-tents are a great invention, but they are not without problems. As several folks mentioned above, disposal methods are restricted and reuse is limited. A thin walled concrete structure with almost 200 square feet of floor space is heavy. BEFORE the water is added, it weighs 500 pounds.

A solution for the homeless? Absolutely not.
A possibility for refugee camps? Perhaps, but not a flawless one.
A field hospital? Sure.

The designers/engineers are to be commended for their ingenuity, but before we hail such inventions as "progressive" or "green," we should ponder all the ramifications.

Posted by: Hungry Hyaena on 16 Mar 05

Yeah, too heavy for a refugee camp and too permanent for disaster relief--a bamboo dome or something lightweight would be much better, I would think (I'm no expert).

But it's a *very* interesting idea as the beginnings of a permanent house. You could start with a few of these placed together and then add doors and windows via other methods. Seems like you might end up with a kind of organic-looking fairly instant hobbit-house for not too much money...

Posted by: Jeff Rusch on 16 Mar 05



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