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Designing Emergency Shelters

The course is about designs for emergency shelters for the victims of wars and natural disasters.

Enrollment is Closed
  1. Course Number

  2. Classes Start

    Jul 07, 2014
  3. Classes End

    Dec 31, 2017



1.1. Welcome and Introduction

1.2. Calls for Design Action

1.3. Wars and Natural Disasters

1.4. Rebuilding after a Disaster

1.5. Teams and Collaboration Process

1.6. First Individual Assignment


2.1. Introduction to Shelter Typologies

2.2. Refugee Camps Precedents

2.3. Prefabricated Transitional Shelters

2.4. Locally Built Temporary Shelters

2.5. Shelters Research Assignment


3.1. Transitional Shelter Design Introduction

3.2. Shelter Design Guidelines

3.3. Shelter Design Teamwork

3.4. Shelter Schematic Design Assignment


4.1. Shelter Aggregation Strategies

4.2. Clusters Modularity and Growth Methods

4.3. Shelters Course Organization

4.4. Shelter Clusters Design Assignment


5.1. Introduction to Design Development

5.2. Shelter Design Strategies and Techniques

5.3. Design Development Assignment


6.1. Introduction to Construction Details Design

6.2. Building Techniques for Shelters

6.3. Construction Details Assignment

6.4. Project Layout and Submission Guidelines



About This Course

Architects, engineers and other professionals must take action in the development of the global emergency response to the natural or man-made disasters that are increasingly occurring in different part of the world. In times of crisis, the whole world should act to help war refugees and environmental migrants with the recovery efforts. Designers have the opportunity to propose solutions that can minimize the suffering and prevent the deaths of thousands of people. Wars have devastating effect on people’s lives. By designing refugee camps, we will provide an alternative for the people who lost their homes and had to escape, leaving everything behind. The design of a refugee camp must minimize the already made psychological damage to the refugees by creating a welcoming environment and a new temporary home.

Natural disasters are happening more often due to climate change. We can’t do much to stop them, but as architects and engineers, we can offer a temporary solution by designing transitional shelters for the recovery period. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2012 hurricane Sandy in the USA, the 2013 typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, are just some of the examples of the devastation effect of natural disasters. We need to take action.

The goal of this online course is to generate designs for emergency shelters for the victims of wars and natural disasters. The participants in this course will design affordable and easy to build shelters, which could be implemented by OCHA, UNHCR, WBG, and other international organizations. We will engage with a team of architects, planners, engineers, and social workers from all over the world. After the course, the projects and instructions will be placed on an open source platform, so anyone can download and use them.

Course Structure

1. Welcome and Introduction

2. Refugee camps and shelters precedents

3. Emergency shelter unit design

4. Aggregation strategies and site design

5. Refugee camps design

6. Design submission and feedback

7. Final jury of the projects

Learning Outcomes

Students will learn about the design of an emergency shelter and how it can be implemented in an urban setting. They will improve their design and collaboration skills, working with a global community of professionals from all over the world. Students will be learning from each other, as they will present their work publicly each week and receive feedback from the professors and fellow students. They will form teams, which will work together on developing integral projects that include aspects of architectural design, structural engineering, building technology, social space, community development, economic feasibility, sustainability and resilience.


The involvement in the course is flexible. For architects, this is meant to be an intensive design studio course, so participants are expected to dedicate 10-20 hours a week. For others, who act as advisors and collaborators, it could take 5-10 hours of work weekly.


After completing the course assignments, students will receive a letter of participation according to their role and degree of involvement: architect, designer, project manager, engineer, consultant, advisor, economist, communications, etc. Students who submit the final Emergency Shelter project will be eligible for the official certificate of successful completion of the course.


The course work will be collaboration between people from many different backgrounds: design, engineering, economics, healthcare, social studies. They will join their knowledge, skills and energy to design solutions that are resilient, feasible, sustainable, buildable, etc.

For designers, previous architectural experience is highly recommended. We suggest the course to professionals, graduate students, and last year architectural students.

For non-designers, we are looking for social workers, economists, policy makes, developers, business people who can integrate their knowledge and skills with the work of the designers.

Course Staff

Course Staff Image #1

Ivan R. Shumkov, PhD

Dr. Ivan Shumkov is a New York based architect, professor, curator, leader in online design education, and the founder of Build Academy. He has taught architecture, design, history and theory at Harvard University GSD, Pratt Institute School of Architecture, Parsons the new School for Design, International University of Catalonia, and ETSA Barcelona. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Harvard Alumni Association and President of Harvard Architectural and Urban Society Alumni. He graduated with masters degrees from ETSA Barcelona, University of Florence, and Harvard University GSD, as a Fulbright scholar. He completed his PhD in Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and Columbia University GSAPP, as fellow of the Fondation Le Corbusier. Dr. Shumkov is a licensed architect in Spain and Italy and principal of ISA - Ivan Shumkov Architects, a company working in the fields of architecture, urbanism, landscape and design with offices in New York and Barcelona. He has worked, lectured and exhibited his projects and research in Europe, Brazil, Colombia, China, and the USA.

Course Staff Image #2

Illac Angelo Diaz

Illac Diaz is a former corporate executive who has since gone on to establish several foundations that provide sustainable solutions to societal problems. He is the executive director of MyShelter Foundation, a non-profit organization which has been engaged in improving the lives of many Filipinos through the creation of sustainable solutions for using recycled materials for the building of clinics and classrooms in rural areas.

Diaz holds a Masters in Public Administration degree from the Harvard Kennedy School. He also completed the program Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was recognized as one of the Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World by the Jaycees International, and is an Ernst and Young Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year. He has returned to the Philippines to apply and disseminate his research in needy communities throughout the country.

Course Staff Image #2

Arnold Rivera

Arnold Abad Rivera is founder of odo:office for design operations, a think tank organization that applies architectural design thinking as a strategy for addressing complex socially relevant issues in developing countries around the world. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Architecture with magna cum laude distinction from Florida AM University and is a graduate of Harvard-GSD with a Master Degree in Architecture. His graduate thesis at Harvard-GSD entitled “Quotidian Spaces” is an examination of the gaps created by the Big Dig Project in Boston and an exercise in socio-economic studies through architectural interventions. The quotidian holds a significant influence in the trajectory of odo's focus on socially relevant projects that examines the spatial challenges of the human living conditions in developing countries. Arnold is a native of the Philippines and a citizen of the United States of America. Although he has lived in the US for most of his life his connection to his native Philippines remain firm because of his interest in the socio-economic challenges presented by natural disasters and political instability. He is an idealist and an advocate of spatial democracy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to buy a textbook?

No, free online readings and references will be provided.

Is this course only for designers?

No, this course is for anyone who can contribute to the project.