Transitional P2P-housing for rebuilding Abbruzzo communities

On our p2p-research list, Eric Hunting responded to a query by Marco Fioretti about housing solutions to the earthquake in Italy.

Here’s the interesting response, with lots of resources as well:

Eric Hunting:

“To start with, I’d like to point out the Fab-Prefab web site as a good resource;

There seem to be some conflicting objectives here. Is the objective relief shelter (instant shelter for an emergency), transitional housing (quick-build or prefabricated but still temporary housing for long durations, such as during a protracted period of reconstruction) or actual reconstruction? (systems for mass housing construction to speed community reconstruction)

Generally, it seems that Italy has covered the emergency relief shelter issue more-or-less adequately. The phase now is transitional housing because it will likely take many months to gear-up for a reconstruction effort and that reconstruction will take many years. This is a precarious period for communities because governments generally don’t handle this transitional phase well. Politicians just don’t have the necessary attention spans for this, don’t have a good grasp of -or concern for- what makes communities work, or any knowledge of options for this kind of housing -falling prey to corporations pushing things like trailer homes or looking for similar ‘quick fix’ solutions like moving people out of their communities to subsidized housing far away, leaving communities empty and at risk of delayed reconstruction or being declared obsolete and not worthy of further help because there’s no one physically there to fight for them. So it’s in this period where communities risk dying before they can be reconstructed. The government response is more dangerous to the ultimate survival of communities than the original disaster is because they typically do not respect the identity of place and communities. They only understand them as masses of individuals they can move around at will. It’s up to the residents to fight for rights as a community, which is almost impossible once they get moved away and dispersed.

Ideally, transitional housing should be in or near the community’s existing location so that it is perceived to continue to exist and so residents can actively participate in reconstruction efforts and have a collective voice. It should use neighborhood-like physical organizations -no army camps!- that allow original social connections within the community to persist as a means of social support. And it needs to be functional -people need to work and have access to the normal spectrum of services and amenities in a living community as well as the special services provided for relief. Shops, cafes, community centers, public meeting places should all have their transitional equivalents, even if in more rudimentary forms. Thing is, the reality of transitional housing is that it’s NOT going to be like the original architecture and if residents can’t put up with that difference for the sake of their community’s future, they’ve already declared it a lost cause and might as well just move away. Governments tend to make this worse by bad choices of transitional housing architecture, particularly when they choose things like trailer homes organized into military style camps without adequate infrastructure or the full functional elements of a living community. And when dealing with these medieval communities and the desire to restore original architecture for the sake of tourism, the original architecture is NOT going to be rebuilt quickly. There aren’t any quick and easy substitutes for these early building methods -though you can indeed enhance the traditional construction with some careful use of modern materials and modern engineering methods. So ultimately you have a real test here of the social commitment to these communities. Are these people sufficiently committed to their communities and their relationships to the people around them that they will put up with, let’s say, living in modified shipping container housing for 5 or more years for the sake of fighting for their towns and restoring their original architecture? If not, the towns are already dead.

And I mention ISO shipping container housing here because that’s one of the most likely forms of transitional housing immediately available. Used in clusters, containers make comfortable multi-storey homes and condominiums, can be used for shops, offices, small factories, can link-up into urban complexes, and it can serve as construction shops to aid reconstruction efforts. Most importantly, it’s one form of transitional housing whose production can be geared-up right-away -within weeks- with containerized infrastructure systems such as solar, fuel cel generators, sewerage processing, and telecommunications already available off-the-shelf. There are probably architects in Italy right now planning the use of this in response to this disaster. Other available forms of transitional housing are either undeveloped or limited to single-storey structures. For instance, the aluminum T-slot frame based architecture developed by Jeriko House (, iT House, and others would be absolutely ideal in this situation, but right now it’s not ready to go for disaster relief efforts and gearing-up for that would take a couple years at the current scales of these start-up companies.

Right now the shipping containers seem the most practical option based on what could be done within a month of start-up. Europe already has a bunch companies working in this who can divert production to this disaster, such as Erge in Germany. ( They’re not especially imaginative. You would need to pull together many companies products for a whole transitional community ‘package’. But the number of European architects working in this area is huge -maybe in the hundreds. Here are some links for companies and use concepts that come to mind;

(container-lift-transport systems for remote location handling)

(containerized solar power plants)

(containerized fuel cell power plant)

(integrated utilities container – power, water treatment, telecommunications)

(containerized solar timber kiln)

(city center project based on containers)

(container kindergarten in the Netherlands)

Rainbow Kindergarten

(containerized college student housing in Amsterdam)

(shopping center made of containers in Kyrgyzstan)

(portable container shop in Uruguay)

(container based factory complex)

(HP Pod containerized data centers)

(containerized health clinics)

(waste water treatment plant)

(canopy system for container-based industrial buildings)

(workshop container)

(container cafes)

(container greenhouse in Italy)

(container restaurant in China)

peek inside a container

(container apartment complex with integrated vertical hydroponic farm – designed as a permanent building)

My point in offering these examples is to show how much you can do with these structures in terms of providing the full compliment of town/village amenities very quickly, often right off the shelf. You may be thinking; what’s the difference from trailer homes? The answer is that trailer have little use flexibility. With containers you can combine all these elements into multi-storey (up to 10 storeys) neighborhood complexes at the same density of these original medieval villages. And you can provide very comfortable housing on the cheap, even if it looks rather strange. You can also tap into that architectural design community all across Europe and they can work out solutions wherever they are and transport them to where they are needed. And when the reconstruction is complete, it can all go away without leaving a trace, dispersed to relief efforts in other parts of the world.”

2 Comments Transitional P2P-housing for rebuilding Abbruzzo communities

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Vinay Gupta, via email:

    Containers are incredibly expensive.

    A hexayurt is, what, $130 in plywood if you do it Marcin-style. Add shotcrete and you have 15 square meters / 166 square feet for less than a dollar a square foot. If you want more flexibility or more insulation, costs go up, but the basic case is very very cheap. Think of it as a modular room.

    Folding version means you can move it with the affected population, or when you change your mind.

    What’s the problem you’re hoping to solve?


    Vinay Gupta
    Free Science and Engineering in the Global Public Interest – social project connection map – free/open next generation human sheltering – the whole systems, big picture vision

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Eric Hunting, via email:

    I agree that they’re certainly much more expensive than a Hexayurt. The question is whether they can last and be comfortable for 5 years or more, over the course of a long reconstruction process -and with these medieval structures restoration could be really protracted -especially if the government can’t stay focused. In the early 70s German engineers provided earthquake victims in a mountain region of Turkey with a unique emergency housing solution; polyurethane foam domes made by mixing the chemicals in a membrane form and letting it foam up into the dome shape. They could then peel away the form for reuse, cut the openings they wanted for doors and windows, and a few people could carry the whole thing to the final location. It was designed so they could bring all the materials and tools in on mules or by air. For emergency housing, it was pretty good, even though the polyurethane formulas of the time were hazardous and highly flammable. But it was only intended to be used for about a year. Thanks to regional poverty -leaving people with no option to go anywhere else- and a grossly negligent government, some people ended up living in these for 10 years or more -though most of them burned down or disintegrated by then into a powder that was blamed for some chronic respiratory ailments. A few were still standing, though, some 20 years later. Instead of waiting on the government, occupants scrounged for materials and built permanent homes around them.

    I hadn’t heard about this shotcrete variant of the Hexayurt before. This sounds like it has some much longer duration use potential. Reminds me of Dante Bini’s Minishell system -something long before the Hexayurt and far more labor intensive that I recommended to Columbians when there was a series of massive floods there some years ago. They were specifically looking for something based on concrete that they could use for fast-build low-cost permanent housing in these rural areas where equipment was hard to bring in due to the lack of or destroyed infrastructure. There really was no pre-existing architecture left to restore as whole communities had to be moved out of the flood zones. So they wanted quick permanent dwellings that would let them remake whole villages. The Binisystem ( was originally intended for large scale concrete dome construction. You would build a slab foundation then lay down this deflated pneumatic form. A rebar mesh would then be constructed on top of that and a slab of slow curing concrete would be poured. At just the right point in the curing, the form would be inflated to make a huge dome shape -we’re talking 40 meters in some cases- and then it would harden into the finished permanent dome. The Minishell system was a miniature version of this. It worked the same way but was designed to make square-base domes with two or four arched open sides that could be linked up into larger complexes. Not unlike the Monolithic Dome concept, but supposedly faster and with the form balloons reusable. What was good with this was that you could easily use conventional by-hand ferrocement later to expand or modify structures, though it had the downside of being a bit too permanent. This is a tough material to expand or modify. I never did find out the results of that project in Columbia. A more modern version of this emerged a couple of years ago in the form of a concrete-impregnated canvas. ( You inflate a structure then hose it down with water and it cures into a fiber-reinforced concrete shell, though it has the down-side of being combined with an inner lining of architectural vinyl which people shouldn’t really be living in. Was intended particularly for field hospitals where the interior remained sealed and sterile throughout the construction. I can’t recall if this ever got to mass production. Seemed to have some great possibilities, such as instant ponds and pools and tension-formed structures where you just tension the fabric into a hypoid or conic form with some cables like a tent, then harden it into a rigid shell. Maybe just a simpler variant of the Minishell; just put down a spherical balloon, cover with the concrete cloth anchored to four points, inflate, hose it down, instant free-standing pavilion.

    Bini had some clever self-erecting structural systems you might also find interesting. He’s had a particular obsession with the concept of pneumatic lifting systems which started with the Binistar System, a method of erecting large span space frame structures using automatically locking joints. So the frames would be assembled flat and then this big balloon would lift it into shape and they would automatically lock in place. This has actually been implemented. It was used in Italy for erecting World Cup facilities in 1990 and in Spain in 1991. He came up with a relief housing concept based on this same concept called BiniShelter. It was a simple pre-fabbed conventional stick frame or SIP panel cottage where the panels were shipped folded and then, on delivery, you would activate this little pump to inflate a balloon that would lift the structure into shape and then special joints would lock everything together. A bit elaborate, but clever. He also had this clever relief tent concept called the Autotent -a tetrahedron shaped tent whose struts had spring joints so you could drop these out of a plane and they would pop open as they fluttered down, ready to use. They were a bit small, but could be combined into octet complexes to make a larger dwellings. Of course, similar tents exist now based on tensioned carbon fiber struts.

    Getting back to the shotcrete, have you explored the use of Tridipanel ( and its related products for this? Was wondering about how it compared in cost and labor. Tridipanel (known also by a host of other names) is a pre-made wire rebar panel with integral foam insulation. Very efficient for making insulated foundation slabs but has a great variety of other uses. You build things by cutting the panels into a desired shape just like SIPs, then you tie them together with wire, pre-install utilities conduits and plumbing if you need them, and apply shotcrete to both sides. Gets a lot of use in commercial building and lesser use for low cost housing projects. Because it’s flexible enough to bend into gently curved forms, some architects like to use it to explore more organic shapes without going to the more intricate use of open mesh free-form ferrocement, which tends to be tricky to add insulation to. It should easily accommodate the Hexayurt panel shapes -though would be a lot thicker. But you could integrate a floor/foundation slab into the structure and make that at the same time as everything else. It would also be tough enough to make an upper floor deck as a loft or could support a hammock loft -a big six-point tensioned hammock. Whether it offers any practical advantages in the intended Hexayurt context is an open question, but it would be an interesting experiment. So many things I which I could try out myself…

    Eric Hunting
    [email protected]

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