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Competition: Shelter 48

An open international ideas competition has been launched for innovative shelters to house survivors in the 48 hours after a natural disaster (Deadline: 11 November)

Open to professionals and students, the competition seeks radical proposals for new ‘life support systems’ which could reduce the number of deaths following catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, landslides and avalanches

The call for ideas, organised by Eleven, aims to identify new structures which could be assembled ‘quickly and effectively’ to save lives and replace the existing ‘underwhelmingly inadequate’ shelters typically used following such disasters.

Hurricane Sandy damage in Long Beach Island

Hurricane Sandy damage in Long Beach Island

Source: Image by The National Guard

Hurricane Sandy damage in Long Beach Island

According to the brief: ‘For this challenge, we focus our attention on natural disasters by looking at the concept and definition of shelter in their immediate aftermath and by posing the question: how can architecture and design help protect, shelter and save lives when they strike?

‘Natural disasters kill thousands of people a year. Typically, the biggest killer isn’t the actual event itself, but the hours following the event. Often, it is the lack of adequate shelter – a basic human need to survival – coupled with the obliteration of infrastructures and services and the lack of provisions, that make the 48 hours post-disaster a critical zone for the victims; a determining factor between survival or death.’

The number of natural disasters has grown by more than 80 per cent in recent decades, leaving approximately 200 million people affected by such events every year. Natural catastrophes are also increasing in their severity and magnitude, causing more human displacement and threatening a greater number of lives.

The latest project aims to influence the ‘critical’ hours after a disaster in which fatalities often escalate due to secondary events, damaged infrastructure, and the breakdown of basic amenities needed for survival.

The competition invites multidisciplinary teams of up to four members – including professionals and students – to draw up proposals for new quick and easy to assemble structures which could act as ‘life support systems’ for disaster survivors.

Damage in the city of Moron, Haiti, following Hurricane Matthew

Damage in the city of Moron, Haiti, following Hurricane Matthew

Source: Image by Avi Hakim

Damage in the city of Moron, Haiti, following Hurricane Matthew

Submissions must consider the logistics of bringing the structure to site, assembly, adaptability, capacity, resilience, materials, and potential future uses of the facility after post-disaster reconstruction.

Judges include Narinder Sagoo of Fosters + Partners, Architecture for Society executive director Amro Sallam, Eleven Magazine founder Andrea Verenini, and the winner of Eleven’s previous ‘biomimicry’ competition, Karina Ashrapova.

The overall winner, due to be announced 11 January, will receive a £2,000 prize while a runner-up prize of £400 will also be awarded along with six unpaid honourable mentions and a £100 people’s choice award.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 11 November


Early bird registration from 11 July to 1 August: £60
Standard registration from 1 August to 1 November: £80
Late bloomer registration from 1 November to 11 November: £100

Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)23 92754278

Visit the competition website for more information

RD Shelter case study: Q&A with Paul Gray

The founder of Suisse Design discusses lessons learned designing a temporary shelter for survivors of disasters

How will your RD-Shelter project rapidly house people following a disaster?

Disasters do take many forms: war, famine, crop failure, the fallout from the actions of aggressive dictatorships, landslide, typhoon, extreme weather conditions – the list goes on. The common ground in every instance is the exposure that those displaced have to endure. They have to wait too long for the most basic forms of protection; the most basic shelter. Is there something that could be done? There are a variety of forms of shelter in the arena. Some have strengths and some have weaknesses. What we as a group are trying to do here is design one shelter that deals with all of these issues.

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

Analyse. Keep the good features and eradicate the bad. Design something that will fit purpose and something that can be moved quickly. Speed is the essence here.

Which architectural, material and other methods did you harness in your design?

After several years of work and many hours of consultation and discussion with friends, family and fellow designers, we have come to this place. A rapid deployment shelter. The rd-shelter.

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

- It’s a fluted polycarbonate structure (KEMPLY).

- It’s light.

- It’s strong.

- It’s opaque.

- It’s wind proof.

- It’s waterproof.

- It offers privacy.


– It holds itself up with nothing more than tension.

There is no tooling, there is no need for specialist ground crew. Its smart construction means it can be compressed to and be transported at 25 per cent of its assembled height. More shelters moved quicker with fewer trips. Lower carbon footprint. More in the field – quicker.

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a temporary structure for the first 48 hours following a disaster?

There are several issues here in my belief: cost, construction, material and transportability. There a lot of solutions in this field but few make it to the ground. There is a lot of politics at play and very little finance. So be as economic as you can. This is not the arena in which to be ‘sexy’ with design. It has to be practical and as cheap as you can make it. Uber design costs money and, lovely as it may be, it will not get into the field. Design brightly with that in mind. You will need to (as I did) work out a way to design a structure that performs well, offers many benefits and can be moved quickly, stored cheaply. If you don’t do this it will (believe me) never fly.

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

RD Shelter by Suisse Design

Q&A with Andrea Verenini

The editor and creative director at eleven discusses his ambitions for the competition

Andrea Verenini

Andrea Verenini

Andrea Verenini

Why are you holding a contest for a temporary shelter for the first 48 hours following an emergency?

Natural disasters occur more frequently and more violently today than they did a few decades ago. This contest aims at providing architectural solutions for emergency relief as we believe design and creativity has a key role to play in successful post-calamity life support. The 48 hours after a natural disaster are the most critical ones, when the victims are at their most vulnerable. The response in these hours determines the life or death of hundreds of people. In terms of response and shelter, however, these hours are also the most challenging. This is why we decided to focus on disaster relief in general and on these crucial hours in particular. How can you get effective life-support units to those in need quickly and effectively, and how can these shelters become vital support units for the victims in these crucial hours and beyond? Answering this key question is what this competition is all about.

Are contests important an important part of your strategy for challenging issues such as these?

Yes definitely. We launch a competition every two months now on a whole variety of topics. We find that challenges are a great way of engaging the international creative community – both professionals and students. Competitions are a great way for people to engage while at the same time building upon their personal portfolio and exposing their creative potential to the world. They produce a proactive response in the design community and also allow for the general public to get involved in the debate through the exploration of all the different ideas which come out of the competition.

Why are you keen for international participation in the project? 

We are very keen on an international engagement. This is very important to us and we have been lucky so far to have received entries from all over the world in our competitions. We are also interested in engaging creatives at different stages of their careers: from students to academic researchers, emerging innovators and established leading practices. Our contests are open to anyone. This gives our competitions a great variety of ideas, adding to the overall success of the project. In our competitions, we try to frame the focus to allow for a multitude of different ideas to emerge. We find that this creates a whole variety of thoughts and projects which we find very stimulating.

How big are the contest sites and what are the potential planning constraints?

This is really down to the participant. We give the option to focus on a particular type of disaster in a specific geographical location (selected by the contestant) or, if they prefer, create a more general strategy to be applied and adapted to a multitude of disaster types or locations and climates. Again, this freedom allows for a participant to focus on what they find most interesting in this topic, and adds to the variety of projects which enrich the overall result.

How important will architectural innovation and quality be to the end result?

Very. In this particular case, we will focus on the architectural quality based on its performance as a life-support unit for the victims.

Are sustainable issues an important part of the brief?

Yes, for sure. I think that today sustainability must be part of any design. Long gone are the days when designing in a sustainable way was a style or option. Today it’s just part of designing. After all, if you believe in climate change being the catalyst for more and more violent natural disasters today, and if you believe that human impact is responsible in some way for this climatic shift (or the speeding up of), then designing in a sustainable way must become the norm.

Shelter 48

Shelter 48

Shelter 48

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

Everyone is welcome: students and practices, but also designers and creatives outside the architecture field who have innovative ideas.

Is the opportunity open to smaller emerging practices and undiscovered talents? Could architects make their names on these projects?

Eleven was born as a platform to give a voice to talented creatives in a world where design is highly competitive and it’s becoming harder and harder to emerge from the crowd. We find that contests are excellent in providing this opportunity. In a contest, we can escape the constraints of the real world and this gives way to raw creativity to emerge unhinged. Sometimes these solutions are very radical and unrealistic, but they hold some vital starting points and key concepts within them to develop into the real world. More so, when we judge, this is done anonymously – no names or nationalities or sex or age are shown. It’s about the projects. We let the designs speak. This allows for a fair system where the best ideas and designs win. Often we have students or small practices come on top over established ones. This is the value of competitions as well: a way for true raw talent to emerge in the best way possible. Adding to this is a prestigious team of experts as the jury. For a talented student or emerging practice, this gives them a chance to be head-hunted and exposed to a team of world-class experts which would normally be hard to reach.

What else will participants gain from the contest, fame/media exposure?

A lot of exposure through articles and social media internationally. Sometimes we also organise international exhibitions, which allow for the general public outside of the architecture file to get involved with the projects and the ideas. From November we will also be launching a monthly digital creative-lifestyle and travel magazine where we will be featuring the best projects of our competitions … just another way of showcasing and spreading the hard work and brilliant ideas which come out of competitions.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We have a lot of exciting changes to come this year. First of all - due to demand - we will be running more competitions: from two a year to one every two months. These will focus on all sorts of topics, from more realistic to more conceptual ones, giving an opportunity for anyone to participate and have a little fun in the process too. To celebrate one year of our online magazine, in November we will launch a monthly issue in a digital flip-book format. This will allow us to engage with a different audience and to create a more curated and tailored monthly product alongside our daily articles. Finally, we are renovating our competition portal online … so watch this space! Without giving too much away, we will create a more engaging way for people to participate in our competitions but also to enjoy the results. Lots of exciting changes to come which we are very excited to see coming soon.

Are there any other emergency shelter projects you have been impressed by?

There are several projects which are very impressive. We love the Ikea shelter, for example. However, these often look at emergency shelter from a different angle: rehousing of refugees and war-related displacements rather than natural disasters. This is why we wanted to focus specifically on natural disasters for this competition, as we saw a gap in the market in terms of both ideas and products.