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Using Axiomatic Design for the Temporary Housing of Refugees

As we mentioned in a previous blogpost, being a university professor at Masdar Institute sometimes presents opportunities to work on really interesting problems.  One such opportunity arose out of the ESM 501 System Architecture class in which students are encouraged to use Axiomatic Design towards final projects about their ongoing research.  Naturally, when Lindsey Gilbert presented to Prof. Farid the idea of using Axiomatic Design to help house refugees, he became quite interested.

We see many humanitarian crises around the world that sadly generate refugee populations.  Syria, Darfur, Pakistan and the Philippines are but a few trying examples.  The humanitarian challenge of meeting the basic needs of these refugee populations ultimately translates to a design challenge as well.  How can these refugees be quickly sheltered in adequate housing?   Refugee housing — by nature — is temporary.  It must be easily erected in response to the dynamic conditions but also just as easily dismantled to avoid the creation of ghettos long after the news cycle has shifted its spotlight to some other purpose.  But the temporary nature of this housing can not diminish the need for durability.  While the often depicted footage of refugee tents give some protection from the elements, rarely can these “first-responding” structures last for more than week or two.  For refugees, the road to normalcy begins with more solid structures that provide a sense of physical and emotional security — a place from which to literally rebuild.

Lindsey Gilbert’s work used Axiomatic Design to propose temporary housing built up of reconfigurable modules arranged into a product platform.  It also recognized that a good design would have to avoid the “one-size-fits-all” pitfalls of many “first-responding” structures.  At the heart of the concept was a “studio” module serving all of a person’s basic needs.   More advanced modules such as a bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms could be attached with standard interfaces to respond to the customized needs of couples and larger refugee families.  The work was ultimately published in the 2013 International Conference on Axiomatic Design and received an honorable mention for best paper.  The full text can be found through the LIINES website publication page.

Interestingly, Lindsey Gilbert’s work represented one of the first times that Axiomatic Design had been applied to a civil engineering application domain.   Present in the room were the organizers of the 2nd International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  Lindsey’s work drew sufficient attention that he was ultimately invited to write a second paper on the application of axiomatic design to civil engineering applications.

As part of his master’s research, Lindsey continues to develop the design of his temporary housing concept and hopes that it will ultimately lead to practical benefits for future migrant populations.


LIINES Websitehttp://amfarid.scripts.mit.edu

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