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Emergency Shelters
Baninajar Refugee Camp, Khuzestan, Iran
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15 Emergency shelters built by the refugees with superadobe

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved
emergency shelter
Nader Khalili, Cal-Earth Institute
14 August 2012

“Sandbag Shelters” combine traditional architecture with innovative design to offer a simple, economical and durable alternative to conventional refugee and low-income housing.
The "Sandbag Shelter project" was established by Nader Khalili upon the initiative of the United Naiton Development Program (UNDP) Tehran, in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Tehran, to assess the feasibility, and cost of constructing Sandbag Shelters.

In 'Phase 1' of the project, two prototype shelters were built in Tehran. Prototype 1, an emergency shelter, with a more basic and simple form and Prototype 2, whcih was the upgraded shelter, with small variations in its design and materials.
The prime objective of the “Pilot Project” is to eventuality asses the of Sandbag Shelters in real emergency situation.

For 'Phase 2' of the project, however, it was decided that further studies should be made by applying the findings of Phase 1 to a larger undertaking, without immediately involving the vulnerable beneficiaries. Special emphasis was placed on the participation of the eventual inhabitants in the construction so as to assess the manpower need, and gauge the social and cultural reaction to this concept.
As far as CalEarth knows that the project is unfortunately not there anymore. The whole camp is gone and the UN says they dismantled it. That could be in doubt as it is known that the shleters were inhabited for several years and part of a larger camp site.

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cultural and social context

The Sandbag shelter is derived from a centuries old design, commonly used in certain parts of the world. Although this traditional form of architecture is still to be found in rural areas, nowadays it is being rejected by the option to use more contemporary materials and high-tech designs. Furthermore where such architecture is not common, these structures are viewed with skepticism.

A study of the living habits of the Marshland Arabs who were the beneficiary of this “Pilot Project” would have shown beforehand that the design of the Sandbag Shelter was not suited to their norms.
In a society where the separation of the genders is important fact of life, a communal living space for both sexes posed considerable complications for the inhabitants. Since the design of the Sandbag Shelter is such that it may be varied to meet the specific needs of different cultures, it is worthwhile to take these needs into consideration before construction. For example, in the case of this particular caseload a shelter with two smaller connecting domes would have been more appropriate.

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materials and building techniques

Superadobe (sandbag and barbed wire) technology is a large, long adobe. It is a simple adobe, an instant and flexible line generator. It uses the materials of war for peaceful ends, integrating traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements. Long or short sandbags are filled with on-site earth and arranged in layers or long coils (compression) with strands of barbed wire placed between them to act as both mortar and reinforcement (tension).

This concept was originally presented by architect Nader Khalili to NASA for building habitats on the moon and Mars, as “Velcro-adobe”. It comes from years of meditation, hands-on research and development, and searching for simple answers to build with earth. It comes from the concerned heart of someone who did not want to be bound to any one system of construction and looked for only one answer in human shelter, to simplify.

Cal-Earth believes that the whole family should be able to build together, men and women, from grandma to the youngest child. In the past years, many hands-on researches have been done to make the process simpler and easier. There should be no heavy lifting or backaches, no expensive equipment, and a flexible and fast construction. The bags are filled in place on the wall using small pots like coffee cans, or even kitchen utensils. You can build alone or as a group.


image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved
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earth and climate

The climate of the region is adverse, with extremely high temperatures in summer and 2-3 months heavy rainfall in the winter and spring.

Due to the insulation properties of the thick walls, the temperature inside Sandbag Shelters remains stable throughout the year. During the summer months, the temperature inside Sandbag Shelters was on average 18C cooler and in the winter up to 18C warmer than in shelters built with cement blocks at the same site; this is especially advantageous in settlements situated in more remote areas, often without access to to electricity .

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image gallery
Baninajar Refugee Camp 1

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved
Baninajar Refugee Camp 2

image: Calearth | © all rights reserved
Baninajar Refugee Camp 3

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved
technical drawings
Baninajar Sketch

image: CalEarth | © all rights reserved
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