Industrial design

Textile Wall shelters: meeting the need for speed and sustainability in disaster response

In a natural disaster or other tragic events leaving thousands homeless, time is of the essence in getting help to those in need, and to help them help themselves. A team of researchers at Politecnico Milano devised a PVC “Textile Wall” that can meet that need in the short and longer term.

While the current shelters offered to the NGOs last for about nine months, our product is capable of lasting for a decade,” says Professor Alessandra Zanelli of Politecnico.

Only 30 kilos of the material can build a dwelling for five people, a system proven in places like Senegal and Burkina Faso, developed from the concept of “speedkits” for rapid disaster response. Polimi’s kit consists of collapsible and foldable cell panels made of semi-rigid PVC bars and sheeting.

The aim, says Professor Salvatore Viscuso, “is to respond in the first stages of an emergency in which you need to create a simple system of partition. In other phases you can fill the central cavity with local materials – like earth, sand or cement – to strengthen and insulate the structure for longer-term use.”

In the humanitarian sector, tents and shelters are often developed as independent prefab systems, abandoned or discarded after an emergency. Textile Wall can be connected to other pre-existing shelters or homes and winterised with extra insulation.

That encourages the local residents to use it and keep it when the post-disaster stage shifts from relief and repair to reconstruction,” Viscuso says. “And due to Textile Wall’s lightness, local women get involved,” says Zanelli. In  every aspect of decision making and construction stages, from the site selection to materials used.

The Textile Wall – opaque, translucent or transparent – can also be used for civilian as well as military purposes, for businesses and retail, for collection centres and sport halls.

And new technology widens the choice of shape and size. The PVC sheeting can have a thickness from 2 to 8mm. Water-jet and laser-cut technology can economically cut plastic bars into diverse shapes and dimensions – rectangular, trapezoidal, etc. Thermal pleating folds the textile rolls into an accordion pattern.

That also means cutting down fewer trees for the reconstruction,” Viscuso adds.