Architects Suzan Wines and Azin Valy were trying to come up with the ideal building material for refugee housing in Kosovo. It should be recycled, recyclable, affordable, plentiful. They thought about bottles and tires. Then Wines tripped over a shipping pallet on the way home from work one night and something clicked.
Using only shipping pallets, or skids, the I-Beam architects created a tiny, modular home design. They also created “IKEA-style assembly instructions” so anyone- even those without building experience- could build their own home, using only hand tools (hammer, nails, “a crowbar is helpful”). "We've also used zip ties to build entire structures,” adds Wines, “which is pretty quick, cheap and easy and doesn't require any tools".
With 4 to 5 people using power tools, it takes less than a week to build a 250-square-foot home out of 100 pallets. Wines and Valy- both fairly petite- have built a couple of pallet homes themselves with the assistance of a few helpers (in locations like Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens and for the Architecture Triennale in Milan). “The only part that gets a little heavy,” explains Wines, “Is it's easy to pre-assemble a few pallets on the ground, but lifting them up on the roof takes a couple of strong guys".
So, doing the math, if there are an estimated 21 million pallets sent to the landfill every year. If every I-Beam home uses 100 pallets (for the 250-square-foot model), 210,000 homes could be built from pallet waste alone.
Since refugee sites tend to have plenty of pallets (used for shipping in medical equipment and supplies), the idea is that pallet homes would provide ideal temporary housing (using a tarp as protective covering), but they can be easily upgraded with insulation and cladding to become more permanent housing. Since the pallets themselves provide a wall cavity, it wouldn’t take long to gather debris, stone, mud or earth to fill it and to cover the roof with corrugated metal, wood or straw. In the longer-term palettes can be covered with stucco, plaster, or roofing tiles.
It’s been over a decade since the I-Beam architects created the Pallet House, but so far it hasn’t been put to use in a refugee situation. Wines blames property rights issues, corruption and bureaucracy.
Short of getting their work out to refugees on a massive scale, the architects have decided to release their plans to the general public via their website. For $75, they offer all the information for building your own pallet home: pdf plans, sections, elevations, photos, diagrams, renderings and a materials/ tools list.
In this video, we watch construction of Pallet Houses in Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens and at the Milan Triennale and Wines and Valy talk about their inspiration for the project and just what it takes to build your own pallet home.
[Animation credit: Samantha Perry and Thomas Longley]
PROTOTYPE BUILT FOR THE ARCHITECTURE TRIENNALE, "CASA PER TUTTI" - MILAN, ITALY 2008
The Pallet House, by I-Beam Design, was conceived as a transitional shelter for refugees returning to Kosovo. There was a need for an alternative shelter to the typical tent solution that could transform a temporary living condition into a permanent home. It is an inexpensive, efficient and easily realizable solution to the problem of housing people displaced by natural disaster, plagues, famine, political and economic strife or war. It has since become our aim to develop the project to serve not only refugees in disaster stricken areas but also as a modular, prefabricated solution to affordable housing everywhere that can improve people's lives, the environment, society and even inspire greater diplomacy among the various cultures of the world.
The principal building module is the wooden shipping pallets which are versatile, recyclable, sustainable, easily assembled and inexpensive. They are readily available in most countries and their transportation cost and weight is negligible when used to carry shipments of clothing, food, medical supplies or other relief aid. A simple pallet structure evolves naturally from emergency shelter to permanent house with the addition of more stable indigenous materials like rubble, stone, earth, mud, plaster and concrete.
The evolution of one 16' by 16' shelter into a permanent home requires approximately 100 palettes nailed or strapped together and lifted into place. Tarps draped over the basic structure or plastic corrugated sheets prevent water penetration until enough debris, stone, mud, earth, wood, corrugated metal or any other materials from the immediate surroundings can be gathered to fill the wall cavities and cover the roof. Pallets may be pre-assembled with styrofoam insulation, vapor barrier, plywood or corrugated sheathing prior to shipping. As infrastructure is restored and cement or other materials become available the filled pallets can be covered with stucco, plaster, or roofing tiles transforming the makeshift shelter into a permanent home within a year or two. Consequently, the Pallet House adapts to almost every climate on earth and the basic structure can be built in less than a week.
The pallet module provides great flexibility in terms of configuration, allowing each family to build according to their own needs and size.
The Pallet House has won an Honorable Mention in the competition for The Returning Refugees of Kosovo. It has been featured in numerous journals including the New York Times, Spain's "El Pais". Italy's La Republica, on line exhibit of the 2000 Venice Architecture Biennale titled "Less Aesthetics, More Ethics" and is included in the book "Design Like You Give a Damn". In addition, this project has received grants from NYSCA and the LEF Foundation and will be exhibited as an installation at a New York City public park this summer.
Most recently, I-Beam Design was invited to build a full-scale Pallet House prototype for the Casa per Tutti Exhibition (May-September 2008) at the Architecture Triennale in Milan, Italy where other prototypes by Massimiliano Fuksas, MVRDV, Kengo Kuma and Alejandro Aravena were featured.
Architecture and construction have a huge impact on the environment and society; and the recent disasters in China, Myanmar, Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, and New Orleans continuously remind us of the symbolic, cultural and physical power of buildings. But there is another more pressing architectural crisis that affects all nations: the question of housing the 1 billion people who live in substandard housing around the world. Pallet House provides a viable and adaptable solution to the housing crisis while simultaneously empowering individuals with simple materials and tools to rebuild their lives and communities. Therein lies architecture's greatest contribution to humanity.
Photos and Video by Gabriel Neri and Suzan Wines
Pallet House Shelter Animation - somalia, africa 2010
PALLET HOUSE REFUGEE SHELTER, Afgooye (Afgoi), Refugee Camp, Somalia
21 years of civil war has left 1.5 million people in Somalia internally displaced.
Pallet House is an inexpensive, efficient and easily assembled shelter for people displaced by natural or man-made disasters.
A pallet structure evolves from emergency shelter to permanent home with the addition of locally available materials like mud, plaster, concrete or corrugated sheathing. 60 pallets nailed together makes an 83 square foot shelter.