February 23, 2024

Sir Norman Foster, founder of Foster + Partners, is usually associated with mega-projects such as supertall skyscrapers and football stadiums, but with his latest designs he’s turned his hand to more modest things. The high-profile British architect has teamed up with sustainable construction company Holcim to create a small concrete shelter to provide safe and sturdy temporary accommodation for displaced people.

The Essential Homes Research Project, currently in a prototype phase, will be on display at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale from May 20 to November 26.

Structurally, it consists of external rollable concrete slabs, insulation and timber, while the plinth is made of recycled building materials after demolition. It is connected to the other units by concrete channels containing luminous aggregates, so they glow faintly at night. Reportedly, once a shelter has reached the end of its use, it can be reused or recycled with relative ease.

Essential Homes Research Project's interiors feature utilitarian design
Essential Homes Research Project’s interiors feature utilitarian design

Claire Beccatini

The shelter is topped with four skylights to maximize natural light inside, and is fronted by a glazed entry and patio area. Its 27 m² (290 ft²) interior features functional finishes in wood and concrete that balance comfort and durability.

It had three beds, shelves and cupboards, as well as some seating and a dining table, and a bathroom with toilet, shower and sink. In addition, the concept drawing also depicts a kitchen, and the roof can be equipped with solar panels to provide electricity.

“How can we ensure that everyone, including some of the most vulnerable people in our world, has access to decent living conditions?” Foster said. “During the Venice Biennale, we presented our progress on this idea; the result of several months of intensive activity in collaboration with Holcim.”

Providing affordable, durable shelter for the displaced is a thorny issue, and there have been numerous attempts to improve the options available, including efforts by IKEA and Zaha Hadid Architects’ own efforts.

source: Norman Foster Foundation, Holcim