Origami engineering inspires ‘Plate House’ refugee shelter
Joe’s research, funded by the MOD’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the Australian John Monash Scholarship, uses origami engineering, the geometry and application of folded sheets, to address the difficulties in mass-manufacture, packaging, and on-site constructability of traditional clad-frame shelters. Such attributes are necessary for transitional shelters, which are used by the UN to house displaced refugee populations for long-term periods, but are difficult to achieve economically in typical hard-shell structures. Tents are therefore often used, although they are generally considered inadequate for long-term habitation.
Joe’s design is an origami-like plate assembly constructed from repeated, triple-layered modules. Compared to existing, single-layered folded shells, the triple-layering provides far superior strength and thermal insulation, allowing the entire structure to be fabricated from lighter, cheaper materials. The modules can be constructed from any convenient sheet material such as coated cardboard, polypropylene, timber or aluminium, with joints cut directly into the sheet during fabrication. This means no tools or additional connection components are needed for assembly. The structural form is also highly redundant, so plates can be replaced, upgraded, or repaired on site.
Joe Gattas said: “My work has a particular focus on the impact resistance of foldcores, which are origami-core sandwich panels studied by the aerospace industry. While developing core and face geometry, we realised that faceting the face sheets would allow foldcores to be manufactured at architectural scales, as all surfaces in the structure could be simply manufactured from flat sheet stock. The main advantages that the folded shell form provides over other structural forms, namely ease of packaging, ease of fabrication, and high structural redundancy, seemed most advantageous for transitional shelters, so the Plate House was designed to meet UNHCR Transitional Shelter guidelines”.
He added: “Initial development established a set of core geometries and matching face geometries that would fit different geometric envelopes. Small and large-scale, arch prototypes were built, but development stalled, as many connection components were required to connect core and face sheets, which was uneconomical and difficult to assemble. Subsequent research into digital fabrication strategies led to a breakthrough in ‘connectionless’ joints which are incorporated directly into structural plates during manufacture. Thus the need for separate connecting components was eliminated and construction time and expense were drastically reduced. On-going research is looking at material and connection improvements, structural optimisation, and the integration of our parallel morphing origami panel research to create pre-assembled structures that can be instantly deployed on-site.”
UNHCR design geometry, steel morphing origami beam, and cardboard morphing origami panel.