The Shelter Schema: Designing for Displacement

Jennifer George
Design Fellow 2018

Jennifer George
University of Cambridge

“We are facing the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. Above all, this is not just a crisis of numbers; it is also a crisis of solidarity.”
Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, April 2016

With predictions of displacement reaching the several hundreds of millions, wide spread shelter project success is becoming a key requirement of emergency response. Prescriptive shelter solutions have been tried before, but often, differing climates and cultural contexts can leave these projects falling short. A solution is needed that does not prescribe a “one-size-fits-all” approach to organisations, but instead, recognises the fluid and dynamic nature of emergency work and enables organisations to substantially improve on the work that is already being nobly conducted across the world. Providing a tool in which material selection recommendations, reference to local design, and consideration of cultural context are offered, without the need to conduct weeks or months’ worth of research, could have a substantial impact on the success of shelter projects.


The vision of the Shelter Schema is to provide a software-based tool which can significantly improve emergency shelter provision and consequently, improve the living conditions of millions of people forcibly displaced by natural disaster or conflict every year. The Shelter Schema will provide a fast and efficient way to disrupt questionable information in humanitarian aid, provide verification for the basis of emergency shelter design, and use harvested data to direct decisions and instruct improvements in design. Distinctively, this tool will include, not only conventional architecture and engineering recommendations, but also suggestions based on the attitudes, expectations, wishes, and hopes of the affected people.

“As long as there are wars and persecution, there will be refugees… Their story is one of resilience, perseverance and courage. Ours must be of solidarity, compassion and action.”
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General 2018