Emergency shelter prototype assembles like an Ikea cupboard


May 24, 2013

BVN Donovan Hill's emergency shelter

BVN Donovan Hill's emergency shelter

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Australian architecture firm BVN Donovan Hill made an appearance at Melbourne’s recent Emergency Shelter Exhibition in order to demonstrate its new emergency shelter concept. Developed with the aim of providing comfortable surroundings for its occupants, the temporary structure resembles a 3D puzzle and is said to assemble much like an Ikea cupboard.

When the need for an emergency shelter arises, durability and safety are of paramount importance. However, providing these requirements are met, perhaps a focus on producing a pleasant space is a worthy goal too. BVN Donovan Hill asserts that good design can add to the comfort and overall well-being of displaced and vulnerable people who have been forced by circumstance to live in an emergency shelter.

"Central to our thinking has been designing a shelter that provides a sense of joy, delight and spatial experiences that are nurturing in a time of tragedy and displacement," explained Jane Williams, Principal at BVN Donovan Hill. "By questioning what the internal and external qualities could be, we can design shelters that provide meaningful spaces – private space for individuals and families, enabling children to play and groups gather without it being in a central hall used by hundreds of people."

The shelter is constructed from pre-cut, laser-shaped plywood boards, which would be delivered to the site flat-packed. Each section of plywood fits into its counterpart via notched cutouts, no further tools needed. The contours of the wooden shape can be used as beds and stools, and assembly requires only one or two people. The eventual aim is that the shelter could be assembled within one day.

Once the main frame is built, a waterproof skin is added to keep out the elements. For the moment, the outer skin of the prototype is PVC, but BVN Donovan Hill envisions that recycled vinyl billboards or truck coverings could be used in the future.

The interior area of the shelter is 100 sq ft (9.5 sq m), and it weighs approximately 480 kg (around half a ton), so is definitely more substantial than, say, the Cardborigami shelter.

Crucial details such as on-board water and sanitation facilities are not expanded on by BVN Donovan Hill at this early stage of the shelter's development, and for this reason, it should be considered an interesting concept, rather than finished product. We'll yet you know if and when it evolves into the latter.

Source: BVN Donovan Hill via Inhabitat

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Is it me, or am I looking at a 1000 lb lean-to that takes a day to put together and probably cost $4000. USD.

Dave B13

I think it is way cool looking. It would make for a cool gazebo or back yard shelter. As an emergency shelter, I think it is not very practical.


Have they ever seen a "tent" ... this thing is ridiculous.

Jeff Rosati

Expensive, hard to ship, and hard to put together. What's the emergency not having the Champagne properly chilled?


Emergency shelter for homeless architects. Who will then hire contractors to put it together and want to know why it's taking so long.


Jeff Rosati, tents sit on the ground. The floor in this design is raised up off of the cold, hard, and sometimes very wet ground. In winter, the tent floor acts as a heat sink. These structures appear to be easily insulated

Kevin Frothngham

Tents are easily insulated too. Well insulated tent are less expensive and are easier to ship and erect than this as well.


That's an inherently scary headline.

Jordan Engel

Okay, slowburn, I'll yield on that. What about water/run-off problems Think Katrina aftermath.

Kevin Frothngham

You need solid ground to set up either so what is the advantage that you see in that absurdly heavy, complicated, and expensive thing they are calling an emergency shelter.


Mass produce this, make EZ to build & use in OK area, New Orleans, etc. Must for storage too.

Stephen Russell

This is a shelter? Looks more like a Star Trek set to me...

Larry Hooten

Proof of the truth of the old joke about how you tell the civil engineers from the mechanical engineers from the architects. It goes like this: Mechanical engineers build weapons, Civil engineers built targets, Architects tell Civil engineers how to build pretty targets.

Dennis Baer

Agreed Jeff, Slowburn and Dave, this thing is not only expensive but unpractical for emergencies. To me it looks like one of those wooden dinosaur skeleton models just oversized and of course not a dinosaur.


Let's accept this as an Art Piece....not a shelter idea....especially not an emergency shelter. It looks like you start with a big pile of plywood.....say 40 sheets, throw most of that away, and end up with a space that is much smaller inside than outside, with no place to sleep. Missed the mark rather widely....but maybe with the iPhone (Inteliscope) mounted on their architects tommy gun they'll get a little closer to the target next time.


Everything that ludicrous arrangement does can be done faster, better, and cheaper by exactly one (1) tent pole.

Uncle Morgan

Half a ton and a day to set up would not be my choice for an emergency shelter.


To be more specific, a wall tent, which is more like a cabin and can be left up as a long-term outbuilding even in arctic conditions (allowing for wind,of course).


Stupid idea - 'The contours of the wooden shape can be used as beds and stools, ' - the thin 'perching surfaces' will hurt like a mofo - ever sat on the thin edge of a sheet of plywood?

You could make a system to hold together sheets of plywood out of the corner braces from waterbed frames and it would be more functional than this stupid piece of performance art. And probably cost a heck of a lot less.

Aruvqan Myers

Emergency Shelter means simple, rugged, and as inexpensive as possible. This is a great looking... something but not an emergency shelter. A great emergence shelter ( a real one) that is environmentally sound and can be built quickly AND transitions to a permanent room in the future house can be seen here:

Richard Grabowski
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