The field of humanitarian shelter is fertile ground for innovation; architects and humanitarian organisations regularly produce new and innovative emergency shelter solutions. Yet, the impact of these efforts on the challenge of housing populations displaced by disaster and conflict is minimal – rigid frame tents, prefabricated containers, and ad-hoc structures built from salvaged or donated materials remain the norm.

The limited penetration of shelter innovations partly stems from wide geographic scope and narrow time-frame of emergency shelter production. The need to respond quickly in unpredictable locations emphasises logistical considerations such that global delivery processes are a critical factor in local shelter solutions. The limited impact of innovation in emergency shelter is also attributable to a lack of standards against which to gauge the value of new solutions. Principles such as economy, efficiency, ease-of-use and user satisfaction underpin shelter innovations. However, generally-accepted standards are not available to measure degrees to which new designs achieve these objectives.

FAR’s research into emergency shelter addresses these issues that hinder innovation. Investigations into landscapes of production characterising existing networks of manufacture and distribution of emergency shelters develops understanding of industrial, cultural and logistical factors that new shelter designs should accommodate. Testing of existing, widely-accepted shelter solutions in regard to: thermal performance, structural integrity, robustness, etc., seeks to establish benchmark standards against which the utility of new designs can be measured. Rather than producing the next shelter design, FAR’s work contributes to the development of a framework within which the value of new design solutions can be measured, thereby supporting more effective innovation in the field.