Improved design of sustainable emergency shelter now ready for implementation

‘In three weeks we start building the first real AGRIshelter’

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Published in Refugee Challenge by

While all our focus is on climate change, these days, we haven’t forgotten our five finalists of last year’s WDCD Refugee Challenge set up together with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IKEA Foundation. Hence a series of updates, this time on AGRIshelter. 

Iteration is a key component of most design processes. It certainly is in the development of AGRIshelter, the sustainable, self-built temporary shelter that a year ago ended as one of the winners of the WDCD Refugee Challenge. Recently, a third prototype was built in Milan, Italy.

‘We needed more prototyping and in order to make things easier we decided to build a 3 x 3 meter cabin that could function as a playhouse for children,’ AGRIshelter’s inventor Narges Mofarahian tells us. ‘Thus we could downsize on the technique needed inside in comparison to a complete family house. With this playhouse we have been able to test a new design using prefabricated wooden components and a prefabricated fabric roof provided by Ferrino. We built it with a team of students and refugees and it worked out very well.’

Straw bales

AGRIshelter was conceived by Mofarahian as part of her thesis at the Polytechnic of Milan. The Iran-born architect designed a shelter solution that uses easy to find local materials, including straw bales and that can be built by anyone in one day – no experience required. The cheap and sustainable construction is biodegradable and, although conceived for refugee housing, could in fact serve as emergency shelter under any disaster circumstance.

While the design develops further with every new prototype, AGRIshelter has also developed in an organisational sense. ‘We have established a non-profit organisation that is aiming at further study and application of the AGRIshelter design,’ Mofarahian says. ‘There are still some legal hurdles to be taken, but the AGRIshelter association will make it possible to receive funding from investors and partnering organisations.’

A real house

Already, the association received a first assignment, Mofarahian tells us. ‘An NGO here in Milan, CasciNet, commissioned a complete house for a Romanian mother with three children who currently have no home. It will be a real house with all the necessary equipment. We will start building it in three weeks. Again we will work with refugees, which is an important part of the whole project. The collaborative building process provides the participants with new opportunities. They learn to know new people and acquire building experience.’

The municipality of Milan will await the results of this new project, before the city decides to commission more AGRIshelters. Meanwhile, the experiences with this full-fledged house will be published on AGRIshelter’s website and used in approaching new partners. ‘We are open to any kind of opportunity where there is a need for sustainable, easy to build emergency shelters,’ Mofarahian concludes.

Top image: the AGRIshelter playhouse

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