The world has been facing unprecedented humanitarian crises, relentless population growth, unforgiving violent wars and grave natural disasters. The long-standing adversities have become a test for architecture to go beyond ensuring the fulfilment of basic needs and create vital spaces, emotional shelters that also respond to psychological effects, cultural diversity, and other specific functions for a dignified living. These are emergency shelter designs that resist alienation and disorientation as a side effect of temporary relief settlements, by fulfilling an imperative feeling of safety and providing a particular notion of identity so that a vulnerable population can self-recognize as human again. 

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Banksy mural, Calais ©

Here, a five-year development of human-centered innovation for emergency shelters mitigates a necessary conversation for present and future unpredictable events. 

Below is a list of 10 such Emergency Shelters:

1. Re: Build | Emergency Shelters

Pouya Khazaeli, Cameron Sinclair, 2015


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RE: BUILD construction ©

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at least 79.5 million people worldwide have had to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. RE: BUILD is an incredibly efficient constructive system for building high-quality temporary spaces in refugee camps. 

Meant to be constructed by the same refugees, the system applies scaffolding and wire mesh to build walls, filled with the ground “beneath your feet”. Either gravel, sand or earth create insulated interiors at low cost. 

The system can be used for schools, hospitals, housing and other functions while corresponding to their immediate surroundings and natural cycles without being detrimental to the environment. 


Suricatta Systems, 2015


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SURI connections ©

SURI is a highly adaptable shelter system, an effective emergency shelter design solution for refugees or in the event of natural disasters. The prototype provides a lightweight framework that regulates interiors into fully habitable spaces, surrounded by multiple layers of a UV-resistant breathable membrane. 

Additionally, the modular design allows various units to join together to form a wide variety of configurations that adapt to any situation. “As the system can be connected in multiple directions it allows for the creation of virtually any type of temporary building.” 1 

Easy to transport and assemble, transforms into a comfortable and flexible shelter for individuals and families for about ten years. After that time, it is reused, recycled or biodegraded, leaving no trace on the environment. 

3. Pop-Up Places of Worship | Emergency Shelters

Lucas Boyd And Chad Greenlee, 2016


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Pop-up mosque ©
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Pop-up chapel ©
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Pop-up synagogue ©

“While [places of worship] do not provide a basic need for an individual’s biological survival, they do represent a fundamental aspect of not only an individual’s life beyond utility, but an identity within the collective, a familiar place of being—and this is something that we consider synonymous with being human—a requirement for the persistence of culture.” 2 Boyd and Greenlee emphasize how homage spaces are necessary for any type of human settlement. 

The Pop-up Places of Worship go beyond emergency shelter design, creating effortlessly deployed temporary places for people to gather and worship as a collective. Limited to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the project takes a pragmatic approach combining function and iconography to create straightforward symbolic spaces. 

By reducing the mosque’s, chapel’s and synagogue’s typologies to their essential formal pieces to build immediately recognizable sacred spots in refugee camps. They carry a message that connects to the individuals’ identity contrary to these settlements’ persistent disorientation. The architects hope to deploy them as building kits with matching instruction brochures to be applied universally. 

4. Maidan Tent

Bonaventura Visconti Di Modrone And Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner, 2017


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Maidan Tent, Greece ©

According to the UNHCR, after a decade of conflict, Syria remains the world’s largest refugee crisis. More than 6.6 million Syrians have left their country to find a better place, though many have to stay in the camps for this long seeking asylum. The tents and other emergency shelter designs mean their survival, but their psychological state continues to be an understated factor. 

The Maidan Tent responds to the need for public space as the means for social interaction, for the architects, a basic human necessity to combat alienation. Deriving from the Arabic for “square”, the Maidan tent concedes with its meaning. It is a circular and open public space accessed from any direction, raised by an aluminium structure covered by a resistant textile, gathering a diversity of activities in a sheltered environment. 

The core is entirely unobstructed while the periphery subdivides into eight more compact zones. In an area of 200 square meters, the tent elevates four meters high, allowing more than a hundred people to share this nurturing commonplace.

5. Shelter with Dignity | Emergency Shelters

Framlab, 2018 


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Shelter with Dignity, street view ©
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Shelter with Dignity, module possible interior configuration ©

Since the 1930s Great Depression, New York is facing the highest homelessness numbers with over 60,000 people sleeping in shelters or on the streets, depicting the most conspicuous wave of urban growth. Shelter with Dignity proposes temporary prefabricated housing as an intermediate step to reduce this population, adding a new dimension to adapt to the city’s increased density. 

“Vertical lots”, as Framlab calls them “make up hundreds of acres of available land.” 3 These empty building walls provide the setting to install a scaffolding structure to suspend individual 3D printed hexagonal housing modules. Together, they form honeycomb-like clusters transformed into “micro-neighbourhoods”. 

The modules adapt to specific needs with multiple spatial and functional configurations in both a resistant and comfortable emergency shelter design. 

After all, this is one of the latest examples of parasite architecture, having as predecessors Stephane Malka’s A-KAMP 47 in Marseille and James Furzer’s Homes for the Homeless in London. 

6. Skyshelter

Damian Granosik, Jakub Kulisa, Piotr Pańczyk, 2018. 


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The Skyscraper competition recognizes innovative ideas that challenge the way we understand vertical architecture. The 2018 winners took advantage of the vertical typology to create a landmark relief centre. 

The entire structure folds like an accordion into a compact package, transported to emergency zones by the same helicopters used by rescue teams. It is anchored to any type of terrain and unfolded by a sizable load-bearing helium balloon installed within. The amount of gas controls the number of floors, making for a single system that adapts to any scale of catastrophic events. 

As it extends, the vertical stacking of multiple functions reduces its ground footprint to the bare minimum, 1/30th of what a relief centre typically requires. Technically, the 3D printed slabs and fabric walls are reinforced by structural steel wires that pull the tower upwards, one able to produce clean energy, collect and filter rainwater to become a novel emergency shelter design in the form of a self-sufficient skyscraper. 

7. Dome | Emergency Shelters

Perkins And Will, 2019


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Dome unit ©
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Dome spatial configurations ©

With the crack epidemic in the 1990s, Los Angeles’s city met with increased numbers of homelessness. In 2019 it went up to 36,000 and now, with the pandemic to an unbelievable number of 66,436 homeless residents. Perkins and Will developed the prefabricated Dome modular sleeping unit, a 42 square feet space comprising furnishings specially designed for temporary housing facilities. 

For the firm, “It’s the privacy, the material, and the configuration that are the real humanizing interventions.” 4 Their design comprises a flexible solution for standardized spaces that transcend the “straight utilitarian box”. Each unit contains a twin bed with storage underneath, a lockable wardrobe, an outlet, a step light, and an optional fabric canopy for more privacy. 

Like a “slice of bread”, it is joined to the next to conform groupings with multiple arrangements that adapt to the community’s established structures. Dome is a dignified residence for the homeless designed to be collapsible, easily stored, transported and reusable.

8. Solo 01

Billboards Collective, 2019


Solo 01 ©

With the increasing shortage of housing in India, Solo 01 becomes an emergency shelter design on the move that provides temporary and portable housing. The 6 x 6 feet space built with reclaimed materials is fixed at the back of a three-wheeled rickshaw using only six bolts, thus enabling an uncomplicated attachment to other vehicles or become an autonomous structure for a more permanent shelter. 

For the architect, Arun Prabhu, the space is functional rather than minimalist, incorporating all the areas necessary for appropriate living, vertically juxtaposed in the compact structure. Not to mention, an additional foyer, terrace and commercial space that open to the outdoors, blurring the line between interior and exterior. 

So, it is crucial for the collective to “…constantly improve the way of life of people around us without space or budget as parameters.” 5

9. Foldable Emergency Shelter

Aleksandra Wróbel, Agnieszka Witaszek, And Kamil Owczarek, 2020


Foldable Emergency Shelter ©
Foldable Emergency Shelter outer walls ©

Severe climate impacts, slowdowns in global economic growth, political unrest, a lack of infrastructure investment, persistent inequality and poverty, and continual displacement pose unconceivable challenges to the sub-Saharan regions. Three young polish architects introduce an emergency shelter design that adapts to these volatile conditions—a simple and functional framework based on a single element, a rectangular plywood board with indentations. 

Vertical and horizontal elements multiplied parallelly and fitted together perpendicularly, articulate into a flexible waffle-like structure for any surface. The outer walls that open up or close down the visual connection between the inside and outside that “…expresses transparency of provided assistance and gives a specific identity translated into a feeling of safety.” 6

10. Jupe Health | Emergency Shelters

Jupe, 2020


Image 19 – Jupe Health units ©
Jupe Health units ©

More than 107 million people have been infected by COVID-19 with 2.5 million deaths worldwide. The United States hospitals have been unable to cope with the numbers since the global pandemic was declared, having the highest number of cases. 

Jupe, an American prefabricated shelter company, joined the mission to address a healthcare system on the verge of collapse. Jupe Health consists of a series of mobile units for healthcare worker’s rest (JupeRest), patient’s recovery (JupeCare), and mobile ICUs (JupePlus). The flat-packed modular interchangeable chassis can be shipped anywhere and quickly assembled on site. 

Hypothetically, some fifty-four trips could address every case in the country as 500,000 units, each costing 1/30th of what it takes to operate a single room in a standard hospital, rapidly deployed on a single cargo ship. Currently targeting the current crisis, the company expects it to become an emergency shelter design for future disasters, homelessness and displaced populations. 


  1. Welch, A., Lomholt, I., Welch, A. and Lomholt, I., 2021. Tyvek Emergency Shelter System – e-architect. [online] e-architect. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2021].
  2. Laka Reacts. 2021. POP UP PLACES OF WORSHIP – Laka Reacts. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2021].
  3. 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2021].
  4. Tillotson, N., 2021. Designing Housing in a State of Crisis: Chapter Two. [online] Perkins&Will. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2021].
  5. Hindustan Times. 2021. Architect converts auto rickshaw into mobile home complete with bed, kitchen and toilet. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2021].
  6. 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2021].

Manuela is an architect from Bogotá, Colombia. She has a special interest in architectural theory believing architecture results from the human understanding of the world and its place in the universe. In films, books, and finding unique spaces in cities, she recognizes society's memory and essence.