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February 9, 2005

U-M designer hatches emergency shelter

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Whether by war or natural disaster, when thousands of refugees need reliable, cheap, portable shelter, a temporary emergency hut developed by a University of Michigan professor may provide the simple, stackable and biodegradable solution.

In addition to putting a roof over a person's head, the emergency shelter designed by Allen Samuels, professor at the School of Art & Design, provides storage for some personal belongings, some privacy, and a clearly delineated sense of personal place for each user, indoors or out.

Samuels's initial interest in emergency shelters came from a newspaper article reporting on overcrowding in jails and the portable stacking beds used in those conditions.

"Although I found the plastic trays into which mattresses for prisoners were placed simple, inexpensive and easily cleaned," Samuels said, "they did not provide other necessities including basic comfort and a sense of individual space."

Samuels's design consists of a bed tray onto which a single foam or standard mattress can be placed. A disposable or reusable canopy attaches at one end. This canopy, or roof, when in a down position, provides occupants visual and audible privacy. When the canopy is raised and made vertical, its "C" shape, coupled with an attached fabric screen, provides a standing individual private space where he could change clothing, groom and simply have a small but useable private area. Used separate from the sleeping pad, the canopy in its upright position can be placed in various configurations to provide privacy for dressing, grooming and toilet.

"The space," Samuels said, "also offers a paperboard disposable toilet device for personal hygiene, creating a temporary shelter that includes a sleep, storage, changing, grooming and toileting place. This shelter can be used in an emergency situation or a setting where many individuals are hurriedly gathered and space, privacy and other amenities are lacking."

Samuels also sees his design being outfitted with a portable filter-fan, interior lighting within the structure and external lighting to help establish the outside boundaries of each shelter.

Because Samuels's design has wheels on one end, it can easily be lifted and moved. When space allows, separate waterproof mats can be used between each structure ensuring an appropriate amount of space between each shelter thereby providing increased sound privacy between units enhancing a sense of individual territory. These foam filled mats can also function as seating, a play area or a resting place outside the structure.

"A larger version of the individual shelter can accommodate a number of users such as a family," Samuels said. "They have all the same attributes as those designed for individuals."

The shelters may be made of lightweight materials that are either biodegradable or durable for long-term storage.

Perhaps one of the most attractive points of Samuels's design is that no tools are required for assembly.

Samuels intends to seek out manufacturers interested in entering into a collaboration so, together, they can refine, finalize and prepare designs for commercialization.

Samuels has worked as an industrial designer for 40 years and has designed and developed new products for 29 corporations. His work ranges from the design of consumer cookware and furniture to medical equipment to support all aspects of heart by-pass surgery, medical and scientific instruments and systems and a line of dissection microscopes appropriate for students in fifth grade through medical school.


U-M School of Art & Design

Allen Samuels



Contact: Joanne Nesbit
Phone: (734) 647-4418


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