Over 400,000 people were left homeless by the flooding in Sri Lanka. Massive amounts of people are being displaced by natural disasters or regional conflicts every year so the demand for temporary shelters is huge. The challenge is to come up with something that is more sturdy and inviting than a tent but still practical considering the limited resource available in most situations. Another consideration that is not usually at the forefront of emergency shelter design is the impact on the environment. The Pallet house design by Azin Valy and Suzan Wines of I-Beam Design is an innovative approach that satisfies all of these considerations.
The idea of reusing shipping pallets as a building material was originally developed by I-Beam for a Transitional Housing contest aimed at housing refugees in Kosovo.
The competition guidelines defined transitional housing as that which bridges the gap between temporary tent shelter and permanent home. They stipulated that the house last about five years, the time it takes a Kosovar family to rebuild a typical stone house.
Pallets are great material for this application because they are sturdy, inexpensive and readily available. In most cases in a disaster relief effort many of the pallets will arrive as part of the transpiration of food and materials requiring no additional logistics to procure them. If more are needed I-Beam states that they can be built by hand at a rate of 500-600 pallets per day. One transitional shelter measuring 10' x 20' would take 80 pallets to build and cost approximately $500.
As a basic structure the pallet houses can be easily assembled and disassembled, but these pallet house not only serve as temporary houses, but can also be the framework for more permanent housing. A huge benefit that these have over other transitional housing is that they can be individually configured to a families needs. Then by adding installation, vapor barriers, plaster, plywood... these can be turned into permanent houses allowing for a more organic re-growth of these villages and communities. The picture below is a picture of an unrelated project where a shed was build from pallets but it can give you an idea of how nicely they can be finished off.
By utilizing materials that are already in abundance this design idea limits the amount of resources needed for the relief effort. The US Forest Service and the National Wood Pallet & Container Association estimate that 1,900,000,000 timber pallets are in use in the US at a given time; 10%, or 1,900,000 timber pallets, end up in landfills; another 10% are ground up for mulch. In the ideal situation these temporary houses would be transitioned into permanent structures, however if disassembled the scrap can easily be recycled into other building materials, fuel or mulch.
I-Beam Design has built a number of prototypes for display, but the most interesting example so far is the workshop they did at Ball State University in Muncie, India. At the workshop 35 students and 4 professors built were split into 6 teams and designed and built 6 houses in 4 days.