There are nearly 44 million people in the world today who are either displaced or do not have a place to call home, and with each natural disaster and conflict, the number grows.
Quickly, sufficiently, and sustainably housing these distressed souls is a shared humanitarian responsibility, and one that needs some serious attention.
Currently, when a group of people is displaced, charitable governments like the UAE and non-governmental organizations like the United Nations mobilize whatever resources they have on hand to provide assistance.
But natural disasters are by their nature unexpected. Even in the case of conflict, where there may be some indication of an impending refugee crisis, often the extent of the catastrophe can overwhelm any advance preparations.
What ends up happening in the face of crisis is a reactive response where time is of the essence, so whatever temporary housing can be gathered is quickly dispatched, regardless of how suited it is to the need at hand.
The result has been played out all over the world – with thin fabric tents provided to refugees in cold climates, with shelter built to last only months given to refugees who will be homeless for years, with metal-roofed sheds given to refugees in desert climates where they store unbearable heat. These poorly planned and over general responses can create a whole new crisis of their own.
We need to make our responses more efficient, effective and sustainable. For that reason I am designing a unique tool that will give governments and NGOs the information they need to dispatch the most effective shelter solution to those in need.
I am using a modified version of a systematic design methodology known as axiomatic design. It breaks down the needs for temporary housing into functional requirements, design parameters, and process variables.
The tool will start by gathering the needs of everyone involved – users, providers and governments.
Through a “quality function deployment process”, the customers’ needs will then be converted into the functional requirements for a given situation. How many people will live there? What’s the weather like? How long will they need to stay?
The axiomatic design will then process those functional requirements to develop the components of the temporary house, while simultaneously setting development targets.
In addition, the tool will help select the best material for each part of the structure depending on the specific requirements for the specific situation.
The end result will be a recommended conceptual temporary house design that is uniquely engineered taking into consideration comfort, cost, safety, climate, duration of stay and needed functionalities.
And by using this tool, we can incorporate life cycle properties into the heart of temporary housing design to put sustainability at the core, so that this effort to help does not in the long term cause harm.
This tool can also be used for less dire situations. It can help design temporary housing for migrant workers on remote sites that are off-grid and thus would need to integrate solar energy technology.
It can even be used to help design temporary hotels for large events such as the World Cup and Dubai Expo 2020, where a city will experience a short-term but massive increase in visitors.
A tool like this can help Abu Dhabi make the most of its notable international humanitarian efforts to help displaced peoples, by designing the best possible temporary housing for them that is also good for the environment.
It can also help the emirate achieve its massive development targets by designing renewable-energy powered worker accommodation for off-grid projects.
Lindsey Gilbert is a master’s student in engineering systems and management at the Masdar Institute. Dr Mohamed Atif Omar is an associate professor of engineering systems