Concrete Canvas Shelters

I.D. Magazine

How do you make a refugee shelter that is strong like a house but only requires one hour and two people to assemble it? Well, first you need to invent your own superhero material. British inventors and design engineers Peter Brewin and William Crawford, founders of design company Concrete Canvas, did just that by taking a basic building component (cement), rethinking its properties, and turning it into a new material (cloth). The supremely efficient and innovative Concrete Cloth is a cement-impregnated fabric that transforms into an impermeable tent when you add air and water. As the fabric gets wet, it inflates into an oval structure, and then dries to form a robust, waterproof, fireproof and lightweight shell. Brewin and Crawford first got the idea for Concrete Cloth when they were graduate students at London’s Royal College of Art. The duo entered a competition held by the British Cement Association that called for new ways to use cement. Their aim was to make a resilient and durable disaster relief shelter. “You think of a refugee camp as temporary housing, but people have to live in them for years,” says Brewin. “We wanted to make something that could last a decade.” Their brainstorming process took them to some unexpected places: chicken coops and hospitals. “We were inspired by egg shells,” says Brewin, “It’s a very thin ceramic shell that gets its strength from the support of its structure.” The idea of cloth came from plaster bandages. “When you break your arm, the wet cloth hardens into a strong, protective shield,” says Brewin.

While the shelters have been in production for a year, they have so far only been employed for military use. “The production is still too small to make them affordable for NGO’s,” says Brewin. However, the company recently received a large publicity boost when they won Material Connexion’s Medium Award for Material of the Year. “That’s the kind of validation that helps us get our product out there so we can lower production costs,” says Brewin “It’s a huge help.”