Syria, Iraq, and the United States

Emergency Floors for Refugees

Pallets: from trash to low-cost solution


refugees, US-based architects, camp organizers


You wouldn’t know it if you haven’t visited a refugee camp, but most of those white tents don’t have floors. That goes even for the prefabricated houses. As a result, millions of people live out the most challenging years of their lives subjected to parasitic infections, waterborne ailments, and hypothermia in colder climates. Formal refugee camps are often located far from the cities of their host countries, and they require an enormous volume of shipments. Goods are packed on shipping pallets that arrive, but don’t leave. The camps import far more than they export, generating piles of unused shipping pallets as waste.


The designers set out to design a raised flooring system that met all of the specific criteria unique to mass sheltering. That means cost-effective, highly mobile, incredibly flexible and above all warm, clean, and comfortable, called the Emergency Floor. The flooring itself is a mat made entirely from post-consumer plastic. It’s designed to fit over a pallet and link together with other mats to connect multiple pallets. The flooring units are modular: they can be attached in different variations to accommodate different housing structures and family sizes. Despite a broader shift toward non-tent methods of housing in formal refugee camps, the need has outpaced construction. And snowstorms pounding the Eastern Mediterranean this winter have left tens of thousands of Syrian refugees at risk. Challenges aren’t always volume-based: in the Gaza Strip for example, restrictions on cement import has made it difficult to rebuild housing foundations damaged in conflict.

Peace Engineering Takeaway

Taking into account the varying needs of refugees in different environments, climates, household sizes, the Emergency Floor designers were able to provide a product that meets everyone’s requirements. Besides being versatile, the Emergency Floor is cost-effective and sustainable. “The result is a lower-cost solution that fits more neatly with existing supply chains. And it also requires fewer partners than [the] first attempt to create their own pallets.” Removing the need for partners, introducing additional actors with their own vested interests, also allows for a wider implementation of the floors. Regardless of who is supporting and supplying the materials for the construction of the camp, shipping pallets will be used, and those pallets can become floors. Since the material is already available on site, the Emergency Floor also helps to reduce camps waste, improving the environmental sustainability of the sites, while at the same time keeping costs low.
Last updated January 2018. Powered by Webflow.