Norman Foster designs forward-thinking emergency shelter at Venice Biennale

The emergency shelters will last for at least 20 years.
The emergency shelters will last for at least 20 years.   -  Copyright  Chiara Becattini
By Rebecca Ann Hughes

British architect Norman Foster has unveiled a series of rapid-assembly buildings that can be constructed on site and withstands the elements after natural disasters strike.

Flooding in northern Italy has displaced at least 36,000 people over the last few days while earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February left approximately 2.5 million people homeless.

After disasters like this, victims find themselves sheltering in hastily erected tents or rows of flimsy prefabricated cabins.

Now, the Norman Foster Foundation has showcased a newly designed emergency shelter at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale that hopes to revolutionise post-disaster housing.

The foundation, started by the architect, has collaborated with concrete group Holcim to develop the Essential Homes Research Project.

A revolutionary emergency shelter

On display in Venice is the prototype for an emergency structure designed to last for up to 20 years. The time scale is a sobering reminder that much “temporary” accommodation becomes quasi-permanent as displaced communities find themselves adapting to their new surroundings. The UN found that families stay in emergency housing for an average of 17 years.

"Disasters lead to the need for instant accommodation and camps – mostly tented – offering scant protection from the elements," Foster said in an interview with Dezeen.

"What if there would be something that would be more permanent, more durable, offering greater protection from the elements, but which could be realised very quickly?"

A full-scale model of Foster’s emergency shelter can be seen in the Marinaressa Gardens, next door to the Giardini where many national pavilions of the Biennale are located.

The structure was designed as a rapid-assembly building that can be constructed on site and withstands the elements.

It has an arch-shaped framework over which is draped a rollable outer shell - a little reminiscent of a war-time bomb shelter. Made from low-carbon concrete, this canvas is sprayed with water and becomes rigid in 24 hours.

There is insulation inside and the outer layer is waterproof. The shelter stands on a base made from reused construction rubble which is easily sourced after a natural disaster.

Eco-friendly emergency housing

Edelio Bermejo, head of research and development at Holcim, has also stressed the eco-credentials of the shelter.

It uses 70 per cent less carbon than traditional housing and can be demolished and recycled if necessary.

The accommodation is also designed to be durable with a life-span of at least two decades.

Emergency housing: 3D printing and flat pack

Other attempts to improve disaster housing have included the non-profit Ikea Foundation’s Better Shelter, a flat pack structure designed to last for up to three years.

Architects Shigeru Ban and Yasmeen Lari have experimented with various solutions to emergency shelters such as constructions from mud.

In 2021, architect Mario Cucinella designed a 3D printed earth house that can be formed in 200 hours using local soil. Basic interior furnishings are also generated as the structure is printed.

You might also like