Jigsaw Puzzle Shelter
image © Shiqi Zhang
Among the past shelters, fast production and comfortable living condition couldn’t always be approached at the same time. Some shelters could be constructed in a short term and cost relatively little money, but the living condition inside the shelters was not satisfying. Refugees always complained about the problems that there was not enough space, every people in one family had to sleep in one single room; it was too dark inside the shelter, and there was always rain leaking from outside; the crying voice and noise of people losing there families coming from outside could be heard very clearly, which was not helpful for psychological rehabilitation; the smell from public toilet was too strong; there was too much mud and many insects inside the shelter; the aesthetic design of shelters had no connection with local culture that people could barely feel they were living at home. On the other hand, to construct a shelter for refugees with a good living condition would cost the government and organizations too much energetically and financially with a much longer time.
Meanwhile, the technology of CNC milling machine (laser cutter) and 3D printer has been developed extremely rapidly. These kinds of technologies make building and producing much faster and more popular, that almost everyone can make industrial products, even architectures by themselves.
Vernacular Architecture in Nepal
The traditional house in Nepal has the characteristics as follows:
1. The house has two sides slope roof. The materials that the building is made of are mainly wood and stone. Wood will be used as structure and stone will be use as walls and foundations.
2. The shape of the house is normally a straight simple volume. Sometimes local people will attach one or two more volumes to the main one to form an L or C shape.
3. The first floor is normally used for fowls and storage space. At the second floor, there is a hearth, which is the center of the family’s daily activities. Nepalese cook and eating around the hearth, and have conversations and worship as well. During night, the householder will sleep closer to the hearth while women and children will sleep far from it. The smoke coming out from the hearth goes out from the opening in the ceiling, under which yak meat is hang to be smoked.
4. When local people doing worship, they will use the space around the hearth as well. Since family worship is considered as a private activity, it always happens inside the house, except praying in the church or chapel.
In this refugee shelter design, the new CNC milling technology is used to help solve the problems occurring during refugees’ daily life. The material applied for this design is only 3000m by 1500mm plywood panel with 18mm thickness. The components that will be used to build up the shelter are cut by CNC milling machine according to the well-designed blueprints. Meanwhile, each type of components is universal, which means that they can be used on different parts of one building, and also on building different types and sizes of buildings. This kind of characteristic of components could make this shelter more flexible for being repaired, updated and relocated.
Starting from these concepts, architectural form is considered based on the style of local architecture. I want to make the section a polygon that can provide a traditional two-side slope roof. At the same time, adding one universal type of beams on each edge could make it larger to approach different types of buildings satisfying different requirements functionally, while keeping the interior angles of this polygon. After calculating, I found equilateral triangle is the easiest and simplest option for this concept. Eventually, an equilateral triangle with three corners cut off is applied to the shape of section. As the concept diagram shows, the original shape whose longer edges are 3.5 meters long can be used as a standard size of shelter house or a clinic. The whole shape is divided into 6 parts with exactly the same shape. Adding one type of beams on the top and bottom opening can generate a larger prototype of shelter house, which could be used as a classroom of school as well. Adding the beam on all the three relatively longer edges could generate an even larger building that can be used as a temple for the communities to do worship in.
In the whole structural system, in order to make it possible for amateurs to construct, the concept of “Zero Bolts” is applied. I get inspirations from the traditional Chinese timber joints “Sunmao” and come up with the joints in the structure. There are mainly four kinds of joints are applied in this design, each of them is very easy to understand and build. As the diagrams of “Guidance of Joints Building” show, the joints could be locked easily by plywood components. These joints are the significant elements of this structural system. When it goes to the constructing procedure, only 3-4 people are needed to work together. Even without any building training and experiences, they can easily finish the construction according to the guidance, just like playing with jigsaw puzzles.
Inside the shelter, as the floor plan and section A-A’ show, local lifestyle and refugee’s expectations are being considered. The standard size shelter is made up by 17 spans, each of them has a 500mm*3500mm area. Except the total three spans on two ends for exterior terrace, interior area totally contains 14 spans, which means that the building area has 24.5 square meters for a family containing 4-5 people to live in. Hence each people have 5-6 square meters living area. According to UNHCR’s requirement, the minimum living area for each refugee should have 3.5 square meters. This shelter totally satisfies the requirement.
In order to provide enough privacy inside the family, the interior space is divided into two parts by toilet and bathroom. The bigger one with a hearth in the center will be used as living room and bedroom according to local lifestyle, and the smaller one will be children’s bedroom with a double size bed and two sets of chairs and desks. In the living room, at the foot of wall, there are windows being set every two spans, and the place where there is no windows, shelves that are also made by plywood are placed to provide enough storage space for refugees. Above the hearth, there is a chimney to let the smoke from the hearth going out, and also a smoking trellis to hang yak meats. Meanwhile, Fresh air will come inside through those windows, and goes out through the chimney, so that the interior could have well ventilation. Meanwhile, since the wall are made by two layers of plywood panels, and there are holes on the connector components, the air can move inside the wall, from the bottom to the top near the chimney, so that the temperature change that the solar radiation brings will be reduced. Besides that, the floor is lifted up to prevent mud and insects coming inside the shelter.
As the section B-B’ shows, the bathroom is located on the south side and toilet is on the north side of the house. The roof is covered by waterproof sheets to prevent rain leaking. In the middle of the roof on the south side, a water-collecting pipe is set to collect rainwater and lead it into the water tank above bathroom. At the bottom of the water tank a pipe is connected to the shower and sink. The water tank, sink and toilet are all made of plywood components. Inside the water tank, there is another soft plastic layer to hold the water. The used water from shower and sink will goes out from the pipe on the floor, and will be cleaned by the filter inside the pipe, so it can be used to water the crops beside each shelter. The toilet is designed to have a small drawer at the bottom, which can contain about 40 kg of human waste. According to the suggestion of waste management in refugee shelter, made by United Nation, waste collecting worker of the community is considered to be appropriate. He would collect human waste from the drawers of each house and transfer them to composting center off the site. After being composted, the waste would become fertilizer that could be used for crops. At the foot of toilet and bathroom, there are also windows with blinds to let fresh air get in while protecting the privacy, and the air inside these two spaces will goes out from the chimney on the ceiling, so that the smell from the toilet will not affect the other two rooms.
Because of the flexibility of the components, this house can be easily update, extended and relocated to another site. The shelter contains totally 1742 components that are all made of plywood panels. To cut these components, after calculating, totally 220 pieces of 3000*1500*18mm plywood panels are needed. According to the Chinese plywood market that one piece is CNY 80 yuan, one standard size shelter for 4-5 people would cost CNY 17,600 yuan. This shelter is believed to last at least five years, which means the cost of each people living inside is about CNY 36 yuan/(sqm*year).