3-in-1 'wearable shelter' for Syrian refugees

Tue Feb 9, 2016 8:19am EST
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By Matthew Stock

Design students from London's Royal College of Art have created a prototype coat that transforms into a tent or sleeping bag. They believe the garment could offer aid agencies a cheap and sustainable solution to help refugees arriving in Europe.

The 'wearable shelter' is made from Tyvek, a material that is tough and durable enough to withstand tears. It's also waterproof but breathable, so allows condensation to escape. When transformed into a tent or sleeping bag, the designers say it retains the body heat of the person inside, thanks to a lining made from the insulating material Mylar.

More than 1.1 million people fleeing poverty, war and repression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa reached Europe's shores last year, almost all heading for Germany. Most of those arrived with just the possessions that they could carry. The team from RCA says their wearable shelter is not meant to be a long term solution, but an aid for refugees in the days between arriving in Europe and reaching a processing center.

"The brief that I set our students to think about how a garment could convert into some kind of shelter for the approximate three-week period that many refugees are spending getting from points of arrival within the EU to processing centers. The idea was to really make sure that the materials used were sustainable, were affordable, could make it very easy and quick for us to mass produce the garment which means we could distribute it quickly and through lots of different agencies," explained project co-leader Dr. Harriet Harriss.

"We contacted a lot of agencies, and one of them was Medicines Sans Frontier which is really involved in helping people on site," said co-designer Ann Sophie Geay. "The first thing we were thinking was how do you have, literally, almost all of your house - how can you wear your house and your personal items and personal belongings?"

The design uses origami-inspired folding to morph into the three structures -- coat, sleeping bag or tent -- with each one taking about a minute for a single person to build.

The team of 10 master's students is still perfecting the current working prototype and experimenting with different materials that will maintain stability while constructed as a tent, such as kite poles that would be slotted into the frame. They are also working on a design that will have add an inflatable element to the structure.

The hooded parka-style jacket has large waterproof storage pockets. It was a prime concern that the garment was able to accommodate a person's possessions, with the weight distributed so as not to cause discomfort.   Continued...