How can housing be designed for disassembly and mobility?


Though the data can be ambiguous, it has been consistently estimated that for the past several decades, about two percent of the world’s population — or approximately 100 – 150 million people — are currently homelessness, and that more than 1.5 billion people lack overall adequate housing.

“Adequate” housing should ultimately provide the basic utilities including protection against weather elements — which include precipitation, wind, and extreme temperature — and beyond that privacy and storage capacity to facilitate human settlement.

Climate change is only expected to augment the urgency of these needs, both directly and indirectly: rising rates of natural disasters — including flooding, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, and extreme temperatures — will require humans to take emergency shelter more regularly, while the rising rates of climate refugees escaping the impacts of natural disasters will result in greater proportions of nomadic and migrant populations seeking new settlement.
Housing solutions must be designed to meet the needs of homeless and migrant populations living under a new climate order, and in many cases this means designing for mobility, adaptation, and resiliency to a constantly changing environment.


Designing mobile shelter means accounting for a collapsible structure, resilient material, stability to weather elements, and ergonomics when transported by a person. Providing multiple mobile housing options for an individual, family, or group requires innovating on traditional tent structures to provide a scalable solution that can accommodate different numbers of people conducting different kinds of tasks, including eating, cooking, bathing, or resting.

To effectively research such solutions, the needs of stakeholders must remain at the forefront of the design process to ensure that housing options are constructed for optimal utility. Scientific data concerning projected climatic trends in specific regions is also included to ensure housing is designed for resiliency and utility as a form of shelter.


To first identify what challenges are currently not being addressed by existing temporary solutions and to then innovate a range of solutions that could be adopted in emergency relief contexts, LÆRO will undertake an intensive methodology of market research and stakeholder integration to propose a product series of collapsible housing options that will meet the needs and fall within the constraints of emergency relief organizations such as UNHCR.

To provide an example of the innovation that’s needed, UNHCR provides published information stating that in refugee camp shelters, there is approximately 484 square feet allocated per person. By contrast, the average camping tent that can typically be found in emergency relief contexts allows approximately 144 square feet per person. This proportion only drops in larger tents designed to accommodate for more people: in a 16’ by 16’ tent marketed to sleep seven people, the allocation of 256 square feet between seven people allows only 36 square feet per person.
Despite their small size, many of these tents can weight tens of pounds when collapsed, and are often distributed in unergonomic forms that can be difficult to carry long distances. Wearable tents — a recent advent in the fashion design industry created to improve the mobility of refugee housing — have improved the ergonomics challenge, but still provide limited space per person when considering how long a refugee might find him/herself depending on this shelter.

Over the next five years, LÆRO will address these design limitations and more through the release of a product series of collapsible housing options designated specifically for emergency relief contexts. Constructing new methods of intuitively packing and assembling modular structures, utilizing new resilient and lightweight materials, and ideating how the integration of additional utilities — such as storage capacity for sleeping gear and clothing, or internal generators for light and water treatment — can be incorporated into the housing design to provide a comprehensive relief kit to refugees. By instigating a codesign process within this project, final products can be relevant to the needs and wants of the users who participated firsthand in the creation process.

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