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Updated 10:00 AM February 18, 2005




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U-M designer hatches emergency shelter

Whether by war or natural disaster, when thousands of refugees need reliable, cheap, portable shelter, a temporary emergency hut developed by a University professor may provide a simple, stackable and biodegradable solution.
(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

In addition to putting a roof over a person's head, the emergency shelter designed by Allen Samuels, a professor at the School of Art & Design, provides storage for some personal belongings, privacy and a clearly delineated sense of personal place for each user, indoors or out.

Samuels's initial interest in emergency shelters came from a newspaper article reporting on overcrowding in jails and the portable stacking beds used in those conditions.

"Although I found the plastic trays into which mattresses for prisoners were placed simple, inexpensive and easily cleaned," Samuels says, "they did not provide other necessities including basic comfort and a sense of individual space."

Samuels's design consists of a bed tray onto which a single foam or standard mattress can be placed. A disposable or reusable canopy attaches at one end. This canopy, or roof, when in a down position, provides occupants visual and audible privacy. When the canopy is raised and made vertical, its "C" shape, coupled with an attached fabric screen, provides a standing individual private space where the user can change clothing, groom and simply have a small but useable private area. Used separately from the sleeping pad, the canopy in its upright position can be placed in various configurations to provide privacy for dressing, grooming and using the toilet.
Samuels's designs for emergency shelters can be adapted for use by one or more persons, easily are positioned in groups or as free-standing units, and offer privacy and durability though light-weight and biodegradable. Samuels says he became interested in creating emergency shelters after reading a newspaper article about overcrowding in jails. One of the benefits of his design is that no tools are required to assemble the shelters. (Photos by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

"The space also offers a paperboard disposable toilet device for personal hygiene, creating a temporary shelter that includes a sleep, storage, changing, grooming and toileting place," Samuels says. "This shelter can be used in an emergency situation or a setting where many individuals are hurriedly gathered, and space, privacy and other amenities are lacking."

Samuels also sees his shelter being outfitted with a portable filter-fan, interior lighting and external lighting to help establish the outside boundaries of each shelter.

Because Samuels's design has wheels on one end, it easily can be lifted and moved. When space allows, separate waterproof mats can be used between each structure, ensuring an appropriate amount of space between each shelter, thereby providing increased sound privacy between units—enhancing a sense of individual territory. These foam-filled mats also can function as a seat, play area or resting place outside the structure.

"A larger version of the individual shelter can accommodate a number of users such as a family," Samuels says. "They have all the same attributes as those designed for individuals."

The shelters may be made of lightweight materials that are either biodegradable or durable for long-term

Perhaps one of the most attractive points of Samuels's design is that no tools are required for assembly.

Samuels intends to seek out manufacturers interested in a collaborative effort, so, together, they can refine, finalize and prepare designs for commercialization.

Samuels has worked as an industrial designer for 40 years and has designed and developed new products for 29 corporations. His work includes the design of consumer cookware and furniture, medical equipment to support all aspects of heart by-pass surgery, medical and scientific instruments and systems, and a line of dissection microscopes appropriate for use by students in fifth grade through medical school.

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