Gimme Uber Shelter

Rafael Smith is obsessed with getting things off the ground – starting with the 45 million refugees living in squalid conditions in relief camps around the world. To that end, this gifted young designer (now a Finalist at the Unreasonable Institute of social entrepreneurs in Boulder) has created an innovative transitional housing system that is collapsible, portable, raised off the ground, easily assembled, expandable, and provides a pleasant, secure and dignified home for the displaced and homeless.

The Uber Shelter

Uber Shelter began as Smith’s undergraduate thesis project at Purdue University, and came out of his passion to use design to confront deep humanitarian issues. The son of a Uruguayan mother and African-American father, Smith has traveled widely, been exposed to many different cultures, and seen first-hand the desperate need for better shelter in the developing world. His research with Doctors Without Borders, NGOs, aid workers, and refugees themselves gave Smith a realistic perspective on the unbelievable challenging conditions in relief camps – and in 2008, he set to work to create a better shelter solution.

Rafael Smith, explaining Uber Shelter

The result (which is being constantly refined through testing, research & development) is a 190-square foot, 3-room shelter with two of the rooms fully insulated, a sleeping loft, raised floor system, and punched-out windows. It can be shipped flat in a 4’x 8’x 2’ package, carried by hand, assembled on site with a wrench, and is designed of manmade materials like aluminum and corrugated plastic that will not rot, mold or disintegrate in wind, weather or sun exposure. To say it is a clever structure is an understatement – I sat inside the Uber Shelter yesterday and it’s remarkably comfortable and (dare I say it?) a super cute structure.

A 3-room Uber school.

Smith is also working to enable field production of the Uber Shelter on site, to stimulate local economies and act as a catalyst for development. And because the system is designed to be modular and expandable, there is also the opportunity for families to use microloans to purchase the shelter, add on rooms, and turn transitional housing into a permanent residence. A 3-tiered version of the Uber Shelter can even be used as field hospitals and schools.

Aubrey Graham/IRIN photo

The design of Uber Shelter is so engaging, it’s easy to forget that it will be used in the most wretched of conditions – although that is never far from Smith’s mind. “For people who are fleeing from war, torture, and famine, one of the greatest things we can offer is a return to normalcy, a sense of security, and the comfort of shelter.”

I’m totally into helping get that off the ground. To join me in supporting Uber Shelter, click here: