Register or Log in  
Welcome, guest: please register or log in to your account!About Projects Competitions People RSS

Pallet House Transitional Refugee Shelter


The Pallet House project was initially conceived as a transitional shelter for the refugees returning to Kosovo after the war. These people needed an immediate alternative to the typical tent solution that could potentially transform into a new permanent home over time, even without access to sophisticated tools and materials. It has since become our aim to also develop the project as a more permanent housing solution to serve not only refugees in disaster stricken areas but also as a modular, prefabricated solution to affordable housing everywhere that can improve people’s lives, the environment, society and even inspire greater diplomacy among the various cultures of the world.

The Pallet House is an inexpensive, efficient and easily realizable solution to the problem of housing people displaced by natural disaster, plagues, famine, political and economic strife or war. It is intended to serve returning refugees who come home and find their house partially or fully destroyed. This type of transitional housing bridges the gap between temporary tent shelter and permanent home.

The Pallet House is made of wooden shipping pallets. Pallets are versatile, recyclable, sustainable, easily assembled and universally esthetically pleasing. They are readily available in most countries and their transportation cost and weight is negligible when used to carry shipments of clothing, food, medical supplies or other relief aid. A simple pallet structure evolves naturally from emergency shelter to permanent house with the addition of more stable indigenous materials like rubble, stone, earth, mud, plaster and concrete.

The evolution of one 10' by 20' shelter into a permanent home requires approximately 80 palettes nailed or strapped together and lifted into place. Tarps draped over the basic structure prevent water penetration until enough debris, stone, mud, earth, wood or corrugated metal from the immediate surroundings can be gathered to fill the wall cavities and cover the roof. Where severe weather persists pallets may be pre-assembled with styrofoam insulation, vapor barrier, plywood or corrugated sheathing prior to shipping. As infrastructure is restored and cement or other materials become available the filled pallets can be covered with stucco, plaster, or roofing tiles transforming the makeshift shelter into a permanent home within a year or two. Consequently, the Pallet House adapts easily to almost every climate on Earth.

Pallets or skids, typically used for shipping are inexpensive to make and can be pre-assembled by hand at a rate of 500-600 per day per worker. They are readily available in most countries around the world, and their size, strength and weight is specifically designed for transportation. The pallet module provides great flexibility in terms of configuration, allowing each family to build according to their own needs. The size and layout of each home can evolve over time encouraging the participation of the community that lives in the houses.

The project won a Honorable Mention in a competition to design transitional housing for the returning refugees of Kosovo. It was featured in the New York Times article on Architecture for Humanity and Spain's Sunday magazine "El Pais" as one of the few projects in the 2000 Venice Architecture Biennale on-line exhibit to successfully address the exhibition theme “Less Aesthetics, More Ethics”. The Pallet House project recently received grants from NYSCA and the LEF Foundation towards funding the building of a prototypical village of houses that will explore the numerous spatial, structural and programmatic possibilities of building with pallets. This interactive installation will serve both as a provocative and inhabitable public art project as well as an initial step toward building housing for the benefit of refugees and homeless people around the world.

Given the human and environmental tragedies that have been unleashed by the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, the earthquakes in Southeast Asia and Iran and the social crisis in Sudan, the timeliness and global resonance of this project as a means to healing and housing through self-determination and participation attests to the enormous transformative power of Architecture. In light of these events we feel a certain urgency to realize this project as soon as possible, both as an architectural gesture of good will towards the thousands of refugees here and abroad and as an interactive art installation to increase awareness and address the problem of housing refugees.

Architecture, design and construction have a huge impact on the environment and society. The events of September 11, 2001 have unfortunately made us all the more aware of the symbolic, cultural and physical power of buildings. But there is another perhaps even more pressing architectural crisis growing out of the events following September 11th, that is the problem of housing the refugees of Afghanistan, Iraq and other potential victims of natural disasters. The Pallet House attempts to join these two critical roles of building together in a project that provides viable and easily realizable housing while simultaneously empowering individuals with confidence, inspiration and very simple materials and tools to rebuild their lives as they see fit.


57th Street & 12th Avenue
New York, New York
United States


Project Details

NAME: Pallet House Transitional Refugee Shelter
LOCATION: 57th Street & 12th Avenue, New York, New York, United States
START DATE: March 22, 2008
CURRENT PHASE: Construction complete
PROJECT TYPE: Emergency Shelter
DESIGN TEAM: Azin Valy and Suzan Wines