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Delta Shelter provides almost indestructible living space


March 13, 2012

The Delta Shelter provides secure living with low impact and a small footprint (Photo: Olson Kundig Architects/Tim Bies)

The Delta Shelter provides secure living with low impact and a small footprint (Photo: Olson Kundig Architects/Tim Bies)

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What do you do when you want to build a worry-free home on land that also happens to be a 100-year flood plain? If you're smart, you'll do what the owner of Delta Shelter did and have Olson Kundig Architects build you a metal fortress to withstand the elements in style. The compact 1,000 sq ft (93 sq m) steel-walled hideaway with a footprint of only 200 sq ft (18.6 sq m) looks ready to handle whatever the Washington wilderness can throw at it - even, perhaps, a 1,000-year flood.

The three-level cabin (bomb shelter is more like it) rests on four steel beams and is covered with heavy-duty 16-gauge hot-rolled sheet steel over plywood walls. As if that weren't unusual enough, it also has four 10 ft x 18 ft (3 m x 5.5 m) metal shutters that can be opened and closed with a large hand-powered wheel and a clever array of cables, drives shafts, spur gears and u-joints to protect the windows on each side - so no worries about getting caught with the shutters open in power outages when big storms roll through.

Schematic of the Delta Shelter (Image: Olson Kundig Architects)

The ground floor is half carport, half storage room with the actual entrance on the middle level, which leads to two small bedroom/bathroom combos. The kitchen, living room and dining room are on the top level. Floors of industrial strength 3 in x 6 in (7.6 cm x 15.2 cm) tongue-and-groove lumber add further heft to the construction and steel decks cantilever out from both the top and middle levels for added space.

To minimize waste and adverse impact to the building site, the bulk of the structure was pre-fabricated elsewhere, thus adding to the overall sustainability of the entire project. Indeed, the steel's weathered, rusty patina makes the structure look like it's been there all along, maybe one of the highest compliments you can pay to an architect striving to be green.

Source: Olson Kundig Architects via ArchDaily

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic! All articles by Randolph Jonsson

Perfect for the Mississippi Delta.

Jay Lloyd

I didn't see any mention of the house being leak-proof for that flood, or how far down the steel supports go to prevent the ground underneath it destabilising, but otherwise? Nifty.

Von Meerman

Seems cool! I have seen som similar things done by stacking 5 shipping containers and then mod-ing them as needed for windows and such.

Alan Belardinelli

ah yes to be young and have a BB gun, the top windows look like they would be fun to replace

Jay Finke

Low impact living is an important idea; however, whenever I see a multilevel design like this I cannot help but think of the sizable portion of our population who could not possibly live in such a building. They cannot climb. Any design for habitation which is not accessible to all is a failure.

Here our big concern is hurricane winds. To really be safe a structure needs to withstand 200mph winds as well as debri flying in those winds. The next issue is heat. Can this unit be air conditioned in a hot, humid climate cheaply? We often see steel I-beans that are free standing twisted and bent to the ground by winds here. Jim Sadler

So many thoughtful and practical ideas being offered these days! Exciting stuff!

Jansen Estrup

How do they control over heating? With the sun hitting that thick steel on a hot day i could see those walls getting pretty warm.

Sylvester Peter

But one off fancy.

Dawar Saify

Many of the concerns in the comments don't apply in this location. Surely a design of this type can be tweaked for different locations. Neat design but stairs are often a handicap when old.


my biggest concern about that building is the same of Sylvester Peter.. because that looks like an solar oven! only steel and plywood sheets... unless in that place the summer is all the time cloudy I wouldn't enjoy such configuration.

Anyway looks good, they should had at least one engineer in that project...

Tiago Roque

The foot print is 400' (not 200'). The dimensions are 20' x 20' with 200' on the ground floor, and 400' on the second and third floors.

Charles Fischer

I like designs as much as the next guy but this just doesn't make sense. Why insist on building in a flood-plane? Then the designer decides to minimise the footprint to a mere 200 square foot but is then forced to go up 3 stories requiring solid steel posts to give the contraption strength.

When all is said and done you have a very environmentally unfriendly structure using lots of steel just so one can live in a flood plane. There are much cleverer designs around to deal with flooding. This isn't it.

I will refrain from commenting on the look of the building. That is in the eye of the beholder.

Paul van Dinther

I notice some people shooting it down over the summer heat issue. The flat roof does look like it give some shade by sticking out pretty far from the rest of the structure. The way it is designed it looks like then the sun is low in the sky (winter) the light will come in. When the sun is high in the sky (summer) the light will hit the roof. Also there seem to be many very large trees nearby. Shade trees? Hard to tell from the pictures..... Plus when the doors are closed they will keep the light from coming inside. The steel may get hot but it is outside the structure with space between..... I am not a big fan of contemporary design, but this I like. It is not all steel and glass for a "look", it is the way it is to accomplish a goal of a heavy duty, but airy house. I can appreciate that.....


The idea is great, the execution though, because of the steel, is a worry though due to the Faraday Effect. Electro magnetic radiation and health just don't mix. As for why build on a flood plain - Bangladesh doesn't have a choice, so if you can solve that a whole nation will be grateful.

Aslan Avdi

Floods make me think of boulders, and entire tree's smashing into things at speed...as tough as it seems i just can't see it surviving that rough and tumble kind of flooding...and with all the steel it must attract quite a bit of lightning...i guess the lightning would be safe enough once your inside, but going from your car up the metal stairs to your door would be frightening...

John Parkes

Given the surrounding trees I would not expect high water velocities and I would prefer not to have my car destroyed in the flood ether. If it makes the owner happy the Architect did a good job. I would prefer a distressed wood, or brick exterior myself.


This looks cool especiall for a site with a slope! I could see a "bridge" or walkway from the building to the slope...



My ambition is to design and construct a structure for living in the mountains, high in the mountains. This looks to have many of my interests and concerns in mind. However, the steel itself gives me pause to concern about lightning and climate differences. The stairway would be impossible to access in deep snow. There are other concerns but I will reserve them for a letter to the designers.

Tom Towey

Yeah - as previously mentioned... the 1 in a 1000 year flood...

Yeah living in a flood plain - albeit a fairly shallow one, I know of people who live in flood plains where 11 - 18 feet of water come through nearly annually..... slow moving, deep etc....

So I see that this structure has very little diagonal bracing or protection from big logs or faster currents etc...

I mean there are limits to everything but unless the deeper water is near stationary - I don't fancy being in it.

Mr Stiffy

@ aslan avadi

electromagnetic radiation!?!?!?

either you are paranoid or your doctor is a quack EM fields have not been proven to cause any change in health.

P.S your computer emits EM fields why are you not dead.


Looks like a lot of maintenance, steel beams rust and need to be painted/maintained regularly.

Sison Siy

re; Sison Siy

There are steel alloys that the coating of rust seal out oxygen thereby preventing further rusting and from the description that is the alloy used.


Why build on a flood plain? Access to a river, with the ease of access to fresh water and a transportation route that it provides. The massively overwhelming majority of all international trade, over 90% of it, goes by boat. Get your goods down river to a port so that you have access to international markets.

I've seen the statistic reported that 90% of all humans live within 300 miles of the coast... I haven't seen it but I'd bet that of that remaining 10%, 90% of them live within a floodplain or within 10 miles of a fresh water lake (no, not trying to lump lakes in with flood threats). And most rivers end at the ocean, so a very large portion of humanity overall lives on or very near flood plains.

Major cities on flood plains: Boston, New York, Paris, London, Moscow, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington D.C., Cairo, New Orleans, Kansas City, Charleston N.C., Seattle... as you can see, I'm American, didn't bother to pull up a map for this, and barely touched upon major cities outside of North America, but I think this sample should be sufficient to make my case. These aren't cities that people would be willing to abandon. I know there are lots of very major cities on flood plains from Pakistan all along the coast to northern China, and that's a lot of coast. Case in point, pretty much the entire country of Bangladesh as pointed out by Aslan Avdi.

Oh, and Aslan Avdi... is the Farady effect you're talking about the Faraday Cage effect? That would actually shield him from EM radiation? Only other thing I know about Faraday is that they measure capacitance in farads. And yeah... not looking this up either.

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