Designers Respond to Crisis - Emergency Architecture

Photo by Henrik H on Unsplash
Categories: Design, Technology & Construction
April 06, 2020

Original article written by: Eric Baldwin

The COVID-19 showed that designers are needed to come up with emergency shelters. Although the pandemic has forced around 900 million people around to remain at home, there are hospitals that are running out of beds for treatment of infected patients. Crisis always calls for emergency shelters and not only exclusively for this pandemic.

As more of the significant part of the world population is under treatment or living in poor conditions due to disasters, this is where designers can come in and help reimagine and make temporary emergency structures work. There are many different types of solutions to temporary structures made compatible to the type of disasters (refugee migration, earthquakes, pandemics, etc) that best address the affected.

The projects showcased below show how architects and designers have rethought emergency shelters that cater to basic needs, as well as one example that was designed to treat patients in the latest pandemic.


Courtesy of CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota

Carlo Ratti Associati with Italo Rota came up with and developed CURA (Connected Units for Respirotary Ailments), a series of "plug-in Intensive-Care Pods" for the COVID-19 Pandemic. The open-source design project, made for emergency hospital, has its first unit currently under construction in Milan, Italy. Shipping containers converted into plug-in Intensive-Care Pods to fight the Coronavirus, CURA is a ready-to-use solution that consists of rapidly mounted and easily movable, safe units. 


© Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti

Greece: ​Maiden Tent built for Emergency Aid

In their effort to help the plight of refugees around the world fleeing wars and persecution, two young architects embarked on a project in 2016 designed with the improvement of mental health of refugees in camps in mind. "Maiden Tent" - led by Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone and Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner, and supportted by the UN International Organization for Migration - "allows refugees to benefit from indoor public space - a communal area to counteract the psychological trauma induced by war, persecution, and forced migration." 


Courtesy of Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee

​Two students from Yale School of Architecture, Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee, came up with proposal designs of religious buildings - churches, synagogues and mosques - that can quickly be erected as "Pop-Up Places of Worship" in refugee camps. Boyd and Greenlee highlighted that spaces for worship are necessary in any type of human settlement by presenting immediately-recognizable transportable and affordable sacred spaces.


Courtesy of

In 2013, it was brought to attention by Katherine Allen that around 1 million people fled Syria to escape a civil conflict that had been going on for two years. She noted that the average lifespan of refugee camps ranges from 7 - 17 years and many others last longer. Allen argued why emergency shelters need to be reimagined and specifically refugee camps. To read more Why Refugee Camps need Architects


Courtesy of Barberio Colella

New Pop-Up to Rebuild Nepalese Lives in "Just a Minute"

Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese residents were rendered homeless following the strongest earthquake and the most costly earthquake in their history. Barberio Colella ARC designed a temporary structure using local materials to help these people get back to their familiar way of life, houses "that can be built quickly, lightweight and compactly, durably and economically"


© Jirka Jansch

Gregory Quinn developed and designed a pavilion called SheltAir, as part of his doctoral thesis at the Berlin University of the Arts. SheltAir as the name suggestes, is a shelter made with the help of air: a devised system that comprises of an elastic gridshell and pneumatic falsework taking the form of air-filled cushions. Its pneumatic system makes it less time-consuming, cost effective and easily deployable. It is ideal as a system for temporary use or even as refugee shelters in disaster-stricken areas. More on this here

New Prototype Floating Emergency Structure Unveiled in Istanbul


Courtesy of SO?

Istanbul-based practice SO? designed and built a floating prototype structure for post-earthquake relief. Called "Fold&Float," it is formed of a light and foldable steel that is specifically designed for emergency situations.