Shelter inventions

Inspired by the Shelter Inventions blog, this is a categorised repository of all the many ‘solutions’ to emergency shelter that have been presented across the internet.

HexagonsFabricDomesDeployableFree Stuff – Beyond categorisationIf it works for the military…ModularSmall houses/shedsClever structures – Wearable.

There is also a wealth of grand designs on the Design 4 Disaster site.

This is what you get if you type ’emergency shelter’ into a Google image search:


Many of the products on these pages are the result of a revelation, and of years of hard work by passionate, committed designers. Most focus on one particular perceived problem, like ‘deployability’. Some have come to nothing, some continue to struggle on despite very limited take-up (or as many of them put it, changing the world ‘one shelter at a time’). Most interesting are those that develop into fully fledged products, most often serving markets entirely different from those they were originally intended for. To my knowledge, none have yet achieved the grand goals of revolutionising the enormously complex and difficult field of post-disaster and emergency shelter and housing.

What many designers of emergency shelters do not realise is that there is a well-developed set of standards and expectations around what emergency shelter should provide.



The Sphere Standards provide minimum requirements for shelter and settlements in emergencies. Shelter and settlement standard 3 requires:

“People have sufficient covered living space providing thermal comfort, fresh air and protection from the climate ensuring their privacy, safety and health and enabling essential household and livelihood activities to be undertaken.”

The Sphere Standards are a good starting point for assessing the quality of emergency shelter, and it should be remembered they are minimum and initial standards. One of the several suggested indicators for whether there is sufficient covered living space is 3.5m2per person. This number is often inappropriate for cultural or practical reasons, but is the usual starting point for emergency shelter.

Wherever the information is available for the products on these pages the weight, covered area and intended number of occupants is given. This allows comparison with the Sphere suggested indicator.


Transitional shelter is widely misunderstood and mis-applied. Firstly, it is not a product. By definition it is a process. To find out more, read the Transitional Shelter Guidelines, developed by Shelter Centre with input from most of the people and organisations working in emergency shelter.

Also developed by Shelter Centre is a set of standards for any products that should be considered to allow a transitional process to happen:  Transitional Shelter Standards.

Working with various manufacturers, 6 prototypes were developed. This process contributed significantly to IKEA and UNHCR’s development of the ‘Better Shelter’, and was perhaps also ended by it: SHELTER-CENTRE-6Designs

The fundamental point remains though that transitional shelter is a process of human interaction with the environment, and cannot be achieved by the design of a clever product.