The Cooper Union
School of Architecture

Kosovo Refugee Housing

The Pallet House is an inexpensive, efficient and easily realizable solution to the problem of housing people displaced by natural disaster, plague, famine, political and economic strife or war. This proposal was included in the 2000 Architecture Biennale in Venice as an example of "ethical" architecture and won an Honorable Mention in an international competition to design transitional housing for the returning refugees of Kosovo. The competition guidelines indicated that it takes about five years for a Kosovar family to rebuild a typical stone house. The Pallet House solution is transitional in that it is able to evolve from temporary shelter to permanent home through the addition of more permanent materials over time.

The house uses wooden shipping palettes as its main building module. Pallets are versatile, recyclable, sustainable, easily assembled and universally available. Their transportation cost is negligible when used to carry shipments of clothing, food, medical supplies or other relief aid. They are inexpensive to make and can be pre-assembled by hand at a rate of 500-600 per day per person, while their size, structural integrity and weight are specifically designed for transportation.

The evolution of a 10' by 20' shelter into a permanent home requires approximately 80 pallets nailed or strapped together and lifted into place. The total material cost including hardware is equal to about US$260. Tarps draped over the basic structure prevent water penetration until additional materials like debris, stone, mud or earth from the immediate surroundings can be gathered to fill the wall cavities. The roof may be covered with corrugated metal, wood or straw depending on climate and availability of indigenous materials. Where severe weather persists, palette modules may be pre-assembled with insulation, vapor barrier, plywood or corrugated sheathing prior to shipping. As local infrastructure is restored and more materials like cement become available the house can expand spatially and the filled pallets may be covered with stucco, plaster, or roofing tiles transforming the makeshift shelter into a permanent home within a year or two.

The pallet module provides great flexibility in terms of configuration, allowing each family to build according to their own needs be it simple patching of roofs, completion of a partially standing structure or an entirely new home. The size and layout of each home can evolve over time encouraging the reconstruction of family and village clusters to develop naturally as they have for centuries throughout Southern Europe. The Pallet House adapts easily to almost every climate on Earth.

Assistant Professor, Adjunct Faculty