Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on July 25, 2008
Before 2004, I’ll bet many of us had never heard of Sumatra, Indonesia, or given much thought to daily life in places like Sri Lanka or Thailand. But that year, one word forever changed the way we think about these far off lands. That word, for those of you who aren’t already two steps ahead of me, was tsunami. And today, thanks in part to the tragedy, another word may change the way we handle similar crisis and relief efforts. That word is Sanctuary — a new emergency shelter concept from Sweden-based design firm Barometrix.
One of the greatest challenges in the relief operation of the tsunami disaster — which is still underway — was providing sanitary drinking water, food and shelter. In the aftermath, it became clear that two things were needed: a tsunami warning system to detect possible tsunamis & give time for evacuation, and a better response and relief plan for such disasters.
Enter UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization) and Design 21, a competition that challenged designers to create solutions to social and global issues.
The competition’s most popular solution was Sanctuary, a compact, lightweight, and flexible tent-like structure made of DuPont Tyvek. It’s moisture repellant as well as tear and chemical resistant and it’s highly recyclable. But it’s more than just a tent. Sanctuary’s features make it a potential life-saver as well. The top of the shelter is made of highly reflective material for visibility in low light conditions and includes a painted “X” to assist rescue planes and helicopters in locating those who are stranded . It’s also doubly insulated to resist temperature change and has a reinforced biodegradable water repellent coating on the floor.
The coolest part? Made with a biodegradable potato starch wire-frame structure, it automatically springs into shape from its flat compressed state without the need for the tricky poles and beams that traditional tents rely on. (If you’ve ever been camping, you know what a time-saver this would be!)
And what would a shelter be without a first aid kit? But this is not your ordinary bandage and antibiotic cream variety — Shelter’s are outfitted with blanket for warmth, a towel for keeping dry and temporary sandals for those who lose footwear in a tsunami.
After relief is provided, the entire shelter can be recompressed and rolled so that it can be easily transported to a new location.
It’s not a permanent solution by any means, but it could make a huge difference during those first critical hours or days until more long term relief can be obtained.
I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for a natural disaster, but it’s good to see the United Nations encouraging young designers to think about practical ways to help solve global problems. Let’s hope we never actually need to use them.