With the highest number of forcibly displaced people worldwide since World War II, the refugee crisis in Europe and across the Mediterranean region is only getting worse. A majority of migrants are Syrians forced to flee their homes because of civil war. Seeking asylum, refugees make treacherous journeys across land and sea. Huge numbers of them, even among the small percentage residing in official refugee camps, lack clothing and shelter.
To aid the displaced, a group of 10 students at London’s Royal College of Art has designed what it calls the Syrian Refugee Wearable Shelter. It’s a coat that easily transforms into a sleeping bag or a tent. Made of lightweight, waterproof Tyvek with an insulating Mylar lining, the coat’s materials are affordable enough to make it freely distributable to refugees once its mass-produced.
This Swiss Army Knife of a coat is still in prototype stages, but via a Kickstarter campaign, the designers aim to raise more than $400,000 to manufacture and distribute these shelter-jackets to as many refugees as possible.
Thanks to the coat’s artful design, when you’re wearing it, it looks more like a futuristic fashion statement than a sleeping bag or tent. The white zip-up jacket has a hood and inner pockets big enough for storing passports, papers, money, and other necessities. A little origami-like folding can turn it into a sleeping bag, and accompanying kite rods turn it into a tent.
The wearable dwelling offers an example of how art and design, which many consider aesthetically but not practically valuable, can be used for social good. “Art and design education is often misunderstood to be frivolous and self-indulgent or focused upon designing for a cultural elite,” Dr. Harriet Harriss, Royal College of Art professor and director of the brief, wrote in a statement. “What this project demonstrates is the keenness of students to use their design talent to make a difference where it matters. The Syrian refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis that needs as many spirited acts of compassion as possible to help address the problem.” Of course, the wearable shelter won’t solve this crisis, but it will provide refugees some much needed temporary help, and potentially “act as a catalyst for more assistance in this tragic situation,” as project tutor Graeme Brooker puts it.
It’s not the first attempt at a portable, wearable shelter we’ve seen from the design world. The “Basic House,” by Spanish architect Martín Ruiz de Azúa, is a compact tent-like structure that inflates when placed atop hot air-spewing grates in city sidewalks, then stays inflated and heated inside thanks to reflective material. Another designer recently created a coat for Doomsday Preppers, complete with ninja-esque blades for self-defense and flotation devices for when the ice caps finish melting. But most similar designs have been conceptual, not urgent and practical responses to a dire global crisis.