UCC students design pop-up shelters to house refugees in large camps around the world

UCC civil engineering students Stephen Lambert, Kevin O'Dwyer, Cormac Sheehy, Killian O'Mahony, and Gillian Madden.
UCC civil engineering students Stephen Lambert, Kevin O'Dwyer, Cormac Sheehy, Killian O'Mahony, and Gillian Madden.

Irish engineering students have devised expandable pod-like shelters with roll-out roofs, some of which can be erected in just 40 minutes, which could help refugees fleeing conflict or famine around the world.

The civil engineering students at UCC designed and built the refugee shelters as part of a course project designed to test their ability to respond to real-life issues.

Following briefings from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, (UNHCR) and architect Grainne Hassett, who has worked in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, France, the students started work under the guidance of Akiboye Connolly Architects on their design solutions.

Among their ideas are shelter walls made of cardboard, roofs which can be unrolled like cling-film, and interlocking pods that can be expanded or contracted depending on how many people they need to accommodate.

UNHCR spokesman Jody Clarke said the agency has to respond quickly when people are forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict, or persecution.

“Finding adequate shelter for refugees in these circumstances means constantly challenging ourselves to find designs that can be deployed rapidly, are affordable and offer a sense of safety, privacy, and dignity,” he said.

“UNHCR posed all these challenges to the students, and it’s been very exciting to see them respond to all of them, whether developing flat pack shelters or those made from simple materials such as cardboard.”

Kevin O’Dwyer was part of a team that designed and built two interlocking pods. Doors at either end allow the shelter to be extended by connecting them to another.

“You could have a row of pods all connected to one another depending on how far you need to extend it,” he said. “What’s more, they can be taken apart again, and stored as flat packs, allowing for ease of storage.

“Four walls and two roof parts can be taken apart and stacked on top of one another in a relatively small storage space, thus meeting one of the project’s core objectives.”

After designing a raised floor, Shane Fleming and his team wanted to design a shelter that was more like a house than a temporary construction.

They incorporated a porch so people could sit outside and not have to stay indoors all the time.

“We wanted a shelter that was solid but was also a nice home for people,” he said.

Isabel Quinn, who worked with four others on the design and final construction of the shelter, said: “It’s actually quite bright now even with the door closed.”

Liam Jackson, who worked with four others on a pre-insulated shelter that could be constructed in 40-minutes, said: “It just makes you appreciate what you have that you take for granted. When you start realising that people don’t have a roof above their heads, you begin to look more closely at what you actually need to just survive.”

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