Design Guidelines

2020 Shelter Design Parameters

2020 Disaster Shelter Competition Design Parameters

The 2020 Disaster Shelter Competition is designed to encourage consideration of the initial phases of disaster response – the initial phase which requires “emergency” shelters, the second phase which requires “transitional” shelters (1-3 years). The Emergency Shelter Event (see below) addresses the earliest phase, and the main focus of the competition is on the transitional shelter design and prototype.

The Competition design scenario for 2020 for the Transitional (or Core) Shelter is to provide shelter for individuals who have lost their homes in Mozambique during the March 2019 Cyclone Idai.  Due to the high winds and rain amounts inland, as well as rain after the cyclone, flooding was a major issue which caused huge issues with transportation, making many roads impassable.  The cyclone resulted in damage to 90% of properties in some areas and utilities were also badly damaged. In Mozambique, approximately 602 people died and over 1,600 were injured. Supplies had to be brought upriver in boats or ferried under a helicopter until roadways became passable.  Many homes were made of mud and sticks (Wattle and Daub), and due to the wind and rain these structures were washed away.  Homes made out of concrete lost roofs and/or were flooded.  Traditional dimensional lumber was not available immediately following the storm because it had to be imported.  Local wood was either unsuitable or protected.

The shelters you design in response to this disaster should meet Sphere standards in as many areas as possible including cultural accommodation, security, packing, durability, upgradability, etc. (see scoring matrix for grading criteria). Transitional shelters should be able to be mounted onto an existing foundation, anchored into the ground, or mounted to an elevated platform made of wood or concrete. Shelters should take into consideration the logistical and transportation challenges and should address the local climate of Mozambique (heat, ventilation, humidity). Shelters should blend with local architecture and practices as much as possible. Further, water supply and handling of sewage is a significant issue that must be addressed. Since the local water and sewer systems were damaged or compromised, you will need to provide a proposed system for providing fresh water and for dealing with sewage disposal – collection from the individual shelters to some central collection or treatment area/facility. Teams should also include a cost per shelter. Assume that the sites will be cleared and ready, so no costs for site preparation are required. The prototypes will be brought to JBU for presentation and testing (earthquake, time to assemble, weight, habitability, rain, ventilation, and wind/water) in April, 2020.



1) In order to facilitate shelter testing, shelters must be able to be pre-assembled and moved onto the earthquake shake table (16’ x 20’).

2) Weightings on the scoring matrix have been adjusted based on the changed scenario. Note that there is a maximum weight that will result in disqualification from the competition.


Transitional Shelter Prototype designs should meet Sphere Standards and other appropriate internationally accepted standards (located at

Accommodation Requirements:

The shelter design must:

  • Accommodate a family of 4 with a minimum allocation of 3.5 square meters of space per person (14 square meters or 151 square feet).
    • Note: In order to facilitate shelter testing, shelters must be able to be pre-assembled and moved onto the earthquake shake table (16’ x 20’) and into the testing booth for ventilation testing (15’-7” x 13’-11” x 9’ high).
  • Height must allow standing head clearance of 2 meters for at least 70% of the floor space.
  • Provide dignified accommodation for a family, with adequate flexibility to respond to social, cultural and religious requirements (e.g. the use of spaces by different genders and ages).
  • Shelter should take into account potential cultural considerations or sensitivities.

Physical Performance:

  • Versatile and responsive to the scenario environmental conditions that may vary geographically, seasonally and diurnally (from day to night) within the scenario area.
  • Provide protection from environmental conditions of the competition scenario.
  • Allow maximum natural airflow/ventilation through the shelter with features that allow protection of occupants from significant rainfall.
  • Protect occupants from significant rainfall (4 inches per hour (2.5 gal/SF/hr))
  • Ability for floor covering to prevent exposure to dusty ground and a potentially high water table.
  • Perform well structurally against:
    • Wind loads (withstand 75 km/hour wind)
    • Seismic loads similar to earthquake of same magnitude that occurred in Nepal and in compliance with US earthquake codes ASCE 7-02
  • Can be erected in a variety of topographical and geological conditions – from sandy to rocky landscapes, flat or sloping
  • Must demonstrate that the structure is reusable (i.e. can be redeployed for another disaster).
  • Must be upgradeable to something more permanent by the shelter users, using local materials, techniques, and skills, as per transitional features mentioned above
  • Allow for grouping of structures for expansion or use for purposes other than habitation

Materiality, Cost-Effectiveness, Packaging and Transport:

  • Minimum lifespan of 1 year – longer is better
  • Cost-effective: $1500 or less to fabricate including labor and materials. Economy of scale during the production phase should be considered as vitally important. Teams must submit documentation to verify the cost of materials and justify their labor cost based on number of hours to produce a shelter and hourly labor costs used in the shelter. Donated materials should be priced at a fair market value. Items not priced will be assigned a cost by the judges.
  • Teams should assume that the shelters will be manufactured in the US or other similar industrialized nation and shipped to the point of use. Additionally, consideration should be given to adding on to the shelters using local materials and methods. Though the shelters are meant for 1 to 3 years, they are often used for longer periods of time and are modified to meet local desires.
  • Lightweight: Overall weight should be minimized; ideally no more than 200 kg per package to allow handling without equipment. Shelters that are more than 10% over design weight will be disqualified.
  • Easily stored and designed to fit in shipping container with minimal wasted space i.e. manufactured so that it can be flat-packed and fits into a standard 8’ x 40’ shipping container (note that the interior of an 8’ x 40’ shipping container is not exactly 8’ x 40’).
  • Since offloading may be by hand or small equipment, package to allow use of shipping containers or for stacking of shelter packages on barge or ship decks.
  • Most easily transported, handled, and maneuvered since packaged shelters may need to be moved by hand, animal, helicopter, or other make-shift methods.
  • Easy and rapid to assemble without technical experience. Assembly should be straightforward and require minimal manpower, non-electrical tools - that is, simple hand tools that are generally available around the world.