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Makeshift shelter of future: Sewer pipes, balloons?

In light of the Haiti earthquake, design site Core 77 launches a contest tasking designers with creating innovative designs for short-term shelters.

Michael DiTullo submitted a shelter design based on a giant umbrella. "It could ship easily in planes, trucks, or trains," he says. Click on the above image to see more contest submissions.
Michael DiTullo

Picture a tent that could be dropped from a helicopter and kept aloft by balloons with computer-controlled rotors attached. It might sound like some kind of offbeat interactive media installation, but Canadian designer Richard Kuchinsky imagines his structure more practically: as a cheap, easy-to-deploy emergency shelter.

Kuchinksy's "balloon tent pop-up shelter" is just one submission to a contest by design site Core 77, which, in light of last month's Haiti earthquake, has tasked designers with creating innovative short-term shelters. Submissions for the site's latest "one-hour design challenge" will be accepted through February 28, but the Core 77 online submission forum is already hopping with some highly creative solutions to a pressing problem.

Michael Kilbane shelter design
Michael Kilbane suggested a pop-out shelter that provides 10 or more compartments in one assembly that could be entered from either side. Michael Kilbane

Kuchinsky found inspiration for his balloon tent pop-up shelter in the Dymaxion manufactured-housing-unit concept by Buckminster Fuller. The floating tent could be moved as needed and could even sport graphic markings to help identify triage wards, organizations, or families from air or land.

Michael DiTullo of Massachusetts suggests a "super obvious, but maybe so obvious it could work" approach: a giant umbrella with a center shaft that doubles as a fireplace. Side skirts could be fastened to the lip of the roof to create the equivalent of tent walls.

The structure might need to be tied down like a tent for stability in winds, DiTullo notes, but could ship easily in planes, trucks, or trains.

Other ideas submitted so far include a foldable, pop-out shelter that forms 10 or more contiguous waterproof compartments, and an inflatable inner tube of sorts that could provide floating refuge during floods. From inside, the inhabitants could lift a support rod, which would uncoil a tent to function as a roof, with the tube itself serving as a back support cushion.

In another inflatable creation, a Belgian designer came up with a shelter stored inside mock-ups of real bombs that can fit inside a military bomber ("so these planes might help people instead of killing them," the creator says.)

The designers propose a range of materials, too--everything from standard PVC sewer pipes to compressed coils; cardboard; and bamboo, sisal, and other natural elements found in Haiti. One pair of designers keeps it simple and goes with mud for their "Emuglu," or Emergency Mud Glue.

Core 77 says judging of the short-term shelter designs will be based on "inventiveness, utility, and appropriateness." The site will donate $500 to Architecture for Humanity's Haiti Earthquake Support Program in the name of the winner. Click on the gallery above to see more designs.