Healthy housing for the Displaced

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Architecture and Civil Engineering


Our vision is to transform the lives of displaced people encamped in extreme conditions through an engineered solution to housing that promotes a new science of shelter design. The project will entail research in five of the world's largest refugee camps. Zaatari and Azraq (Jordan), Kilis (Turkey), Mae La (Thailand), Nyarugusu (Tanzania). These have populations of up to 250,000 and hence are in many ways cities. They have summer temperatures >35degC and occasionally >40degC; in these conditions un-insulated dwellings are unable to provide safe conditions. In addition, such locations can have 1600W/m2 of solar radiation, further raising the temperature inside a dwelling, and in the case of Jordan winter temperatures of -10degC. In Thailand the high humidity is likely to be of equal importance in placing thermal stress on occupants. In addition, displacement shelters can use polymeric materials which contain a high proportion of VOCs such as plasticisers and release agents, and have poorly ventilated cooking facilities using fuels such as wood, thereby generating particulates.

Camps were once expected to be a short term solution, and this is still true in some settings. However, as witnessed in numerous locations around the globe, encampment often continues for years or decades (for example, the 340,000 strong Dadaab camp in Kenya opened in 1992). Even in natural disasters delays in rebuilding can lead to displacement camps taking on aspects of semi-permanent settlement. The challenges of survival in the immediate onset of an emergency quickly give way to concerns about the suitability of shelter over a longer timeframe. Such basic dwellings inhibit domestic life, educational delivery to the young, and development of the social relations needed for community cohesion. Often the need of traumatised people for a sense of security and privacy also goes unmet. Unfortunately, even the state of the art in current shelter provision does not adequately consider building physics, thermal comfort and air quality. There is also a general lack of attention to socio-cultural issues. Thus, for example, our pilot study in Jordan has revealed through social surveys a consistent concern amongst the displaced population with the issues of safety and privacy.

Given the diversity of potentially available building materials, climates and cultures, there will be no single shelter solution, but rather a need for a systematic process of design that is cognisant of the climate, landscape, culture, length of time the accommodation might be needed, flexibility as family size changes and portability. This project will develop such a design process by creating a new science of shelter design through engagement with aid agency staff in four countries with diverse weather, cultural conditions and political sensitivities. This will involve 1) wide scale social and indoor environment surveys in five camps; 2) the construction of a series of potential designs in the UK, in a climate chamber and in Jordan; and 3) the production of a multi-language, extreme climate building physics-based, culturally sensitive, shelter design tool for agency field staff.

Planned Impact

Healthy Housing for the Displaced: Impact Summary

There are three key elements to the work proposed in this project: (i) the collection of empirical data from existing shelters around the world; (ii) the development of carefully engineered solutions which will be prototyped and tested in the lab and in the field; and (iii) the development of a language-localised shelter design tool. Each of these elements are expected to have a range of non-academic impacts, falling into the themes of Knowledge, Economy, Society and People.
In the Knowledge domain, we expect bi-directional engagement with the refugee / displaced community who are at the very core of this proposal. This includes, but is not limited to, the refugees in Jordan, Thailand, Turkey and Tanzania who form part of the work in WP1. We expect to inform the development of new shelters that will directly impact this community whilst simultaneously, through a participatory design process, enabling them to work with us in the development of these shelters. Linked to this will be engagement with organisations involved in the design, manufacture and delivery of emergency shelters (e.g. International Red Cross, Red Crescent) around the world. This will ensure that our designs reflect the reality of deployment in crisis situations. Our work will also complement the work of existing groups such as Shelter Cluster and the pan-organisational Humanitarian Library. We expect these organisations to benefit, in particular, from our language-localised shelter design tool. Leverage will arise from the creation of a International Repository of Shelter Data for the world community to access.
Our efforts in the Economy domain will concentrate on helping UK industry accelerate business opportunities in the mass production of high quality transitional shelters. This is motivated by the fact that, given the scale of the current crises, any viable solution will need to be produced at large scales with quality controlled processes designed to ensure lowest cost and maximal efficiency. This will be based both on our extensive collection of empirical data from existing sites as well as our prototyped and tested solutions. We will leverage the University of Bath's outstanding links with industry to enable this (e.g. product companies such as The Dyson group; global engineering consultancies such as Arup and BuroHappold; and pre-fabricated panel suppliers such as Mod-Cell). Project partners will also be leveraged to help disseminate our new guidance on the science of shelter design. Practitioner journals such as the CIBSE Journal and Architects Journal will also be a natural outlet for our work.
The refugee crisis is not only the most significant humanitarian challenge of our age, it is also a deeply divisive political, economic and social problem. Therefore we aim to create societal impact by enabling a more positive discourse around the refugee crisis. This will be achieved by a demonstration of the positive impacts that UK academia, industry and third sector organisations can have on this widespread humanitarian crisis. We will leverage our media experience to raise the project profile locally in SW England, nationally in the UK and internationally in Jordan, Thailand, Turkey and Tanzania. Our prototype designs and documentation of the refugee representatives engaging and reacting to these designs will form a major part of this outreach work.
A major effort in this respect will be made in Jordan, which has faced the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis. We also aim to engage university students all over Jordan in a design competition to design new transitional shelters using our data and guidance. This will have the double benefit of teaching sound building science principles to Jordanian architecture and engineering students whilst raising the profile of our own work.


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Coley D (2017) Probabilistic adaptive thermal comfort for resilient design in Building and Environment

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Fosas D (2019) The importance of thermal modelling and prototyping in shelter design in Building Research & Information

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Fosas D (2018) Refugee housing through cyclic design in Architectural Science Review

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Natarajan S (2020) Practice before theory? An approach for testing sequencing effects in pedagogical design in International Journal of Technology and Design Education

Description Thermal mass is as beneficial as insulation; we can set a comfort temperature for such a population; we can have a large impact in the sector
Exploitation Route In the design of new shelters
Sectors Construction,Other

Description We have helped UNHCR design new set of shelter for a camp in Jordan. One design element is now fitted to all there shelters in the camp
Sector Construction,Other
Impact Types Societal

Title Embodied energy and embodied carbon of 81 shelters globally 
Description This excel file contains information and calculations used to estimate the embodied energy and the embodied carbon of emergency, transitional and durable shelters used to house displaced persons. The study considers a sample of 81 shelters drawn from 34 countries in South and Central America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes