By Shane Healey
On a vacation to Manila in the Philippines, Rafael Smith was shocked by the devastating living conditions of those in poverty; when he got home, he began researching the architecture of shelters around the world. With no previous knowledge of refugee camps, he sought the advice of doctors, policy makers, and aid workers. Rafael Smith, a senior in the industrial design program at Purdue University, designed the Über Shelter for his undergraduate thesis project. After he graduated, he entered the International Design Excellence Awards for students and was a finalist in 2008.
Dismantled, the Über Shelter looks like a large gray gurney. But this compact pile of aluminum unfolds into a two-story home, complete with lights, stove, porch and a small refrigerator. Rafael focused on fixing some of the problems that have plagued large refugee camps. The shelter is meant to reduce sprawl. The shelter can hold two families, one on each floor, the camp size can be reduced by half, and he equips each home with solar-powered electricity. The unit, which unfurls to roughly the size of a truck, is made of lightweight recyclable aluminum, so it can be cheaply transported by car or parachuted in to a disaster. Rafael’s Uber Shelter is designed for three phases. The emergency stage provides an elevated floor and a roof to get the individuals out of the elements. This step would cost $200. The transitional stage provides the walls, doors, and windows, completely enclosing the 190 sq-ft shelter. This step would cost an additional $1,300. The permanent stage allows the individuals to expand their shelter to 250sqft for an additional $1,000.
In late February 2011, Rafael Smith took his Uber Shelter to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti to deploy a demonstration model to respond to the displaced individuals from the earthquake in 2010. Their goal with this pilot was to work with the families, living in the shelters, to understand from their perspective how to improve the product, in the future. In the end, Rafael heard directly from the users about theirs wants and needs about the shelter. Haiti’s Transitional Shelter Guidelines state that all shelters must be designed to withstand a minimum of 100 mph wind loads and 25lbs per sq-ft floor load. With the use of a civil engineer, the Uber Shelter is designed to resist a 120mph wind load. Currently the demonstration model is being evaluated by Haiti’s housing and emergency response agencies. In the future, Rafael plans to deploy a community style shelter(s), in Haiti, that is comprised of 4 separate shelters.
After his trip to Haiti, Rafael quickly realized that some of the "emergency shelter" features of the design were not reflecting Haiti’s current housing needs. With Haiti’s strong support, we decided to beef-up the original design to something more permanent. The canvas roof was replaced with a corrugated steel roof, plywood walls were added behind the vinyl fabric on the first floor for security, shelving was added in the interior, and a plywood door with locks replaced the Velcro door.