An initiative by Better Shelter

A shelter that lasts the duration of displacement and beyond


The Structure approach considers sheltering as an incremental process. It offers residents maximum control and flexibility, and minimise costs and environmental impacts, as all materials used have follow-on uses or value. The steel frame lasts for ten years and can be reused, repurposed and upcycled. Equally, the tarpaulin and local materials used in the Structure approach can, if carefully selected and maintained, be reused in repair and reconstruction, thereby constituting a ‘transitional shelter’.



Structure offers low-cost, transitional sheltering, capable of lasting the duration of displacement through upgrading with local materials. The modular framework can be deployed with a tarpaulin cover and serve as an emergency shelter in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or conflict. 



Over time, as communities and market supply chains recover, Structure can be upgraded with local materials by humanitarian actors, local government and civil society, and/or residents themselves. In this way, Structure enables incremental upgrading and can be adapted to different climates and contexts, building traditions and cultural norms.



Once a Structure is no longer needed as a temporary shelter or the initial application, it can be partially or completely repurposed, parts can be reused, recycled or resold.

Piloting with partners

The Research & Development pilots for Structure have been carried out through partnerships with humanitarian NGOs.

Similarly to the development of the Relief Housing Unit (RHU), we have involved partners and researchers at an early stage, and maintained close collaboration throughout the planning, deployment and testing and follow up phases.

Through frequent updates and ideations, troubleshooting, reporting and video assembly courses, we managed to work effectively despite challenges due to travel restrictions due to COVID-19.


Partner: AKAH | Units: 15 | Location: Khorough, Eastern Tajikistan

Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) aims to ensure that people live in safe, sustainable, and resilient habitats with the opportunity to thrive, whether in a remote mountain village, a town, or a densely populated urban centre.

Deploy – 15 Structures were intended to serve as community infrastructure. However, as covid-19 spread across Tajikistan, the AKAH team decided to repurpose the Structures as part of Aga Khan Development Network’s covid-19 response, and function as Search and Rescue and triaging centres. The Structures were erected in remote mountainous regions surrounding Khorough in Eastern Tajikistan.

Upgrade – Due to the urgency in providing safe spaces for COVID-19 triaging and SART bases, the Structures were covered with tarpaulin, which has, so far, withstood high exposure to the sun and harsh winter with heavy snow load in the Tajik highlands.

Upcycle – Once the pandemic has slowed down, AKAH plans to relocate the Structures within Tajikistan and upgrade with local materials to transform them into more permanent support structures.


Partner: AKAH | Units: 15 | Location: Northern Afghanistan

Deploy – The region is ravaged by natural disasters and a protracted conflict. 15 Structures were intended to be included in AKAH’s emergency response to displaced families. However, due to the covid-19 outbreak, four units were equipped to function as offices and changing rooms for medical staff operating in covid-19 clinics, built out of Relief Housing Units (RHUs).

Upgrade – The Structure units were assembled firstly with a tarpaulin, which provided the initial and emergency coverage of the activities undertaken in the shelter. With time, some units were upgraded with locally available materials, especially upon the arrival of winter, when local winterization techniques were implemented in the shelters to guarantee adequate isolation and thermal comfort.

Upcycle – When the covid-19 situation has improved in Afghanistan, the Structure units will likely be relocated and repurposed to address urgent needs of the population. These may include temporary shelters for families affected by natural disasters, shelters for other displaced communities, health clinics in remote areas and educational centres.


Partner: SEEDS | Units: 15 | Location: Kerala, Delhi and Uttrakhand, India

SEEDS builds the resilience of Indian and Nepalese communities exposed to disaster and climate emergencies by promoting practical solutions that can enhance disaster readiness, response and rehabilitation.

Deploy – The 15 Structures were implemented at different times, as the need arose from the local communities and due to covid-19 restrictions. Until reporting date, two units have been assembled for testing and R&D purposes in Delhi, four units have been installed as temporary shelters in Kerala and two units in Haridwar in the same function.

Upgrade – In Delhi, the units were covered with plastic sheeting and upgraded with pallet wood and bamboo mats.

Kerala, with its warm and humid climate, is prone to flooding. The Structures were upgraded with tarpaulin at first, followed by CGI roofing, and timber and locally-grown bamboo for the walls.

In Haridwar, the Structures were used in its emergency modality, covered with plastic sheeting. At the time of the assessment, no local materials upgrade had been done yet.

Upcycle – The upcycling process is unique to each unit. SEEDS intends to repurpose the testing units from the New Delhi office in support of the country’s covid-19 relief efforts and other medical support.


Partner: local contractor | Units: 3 | Location: Northern Rwanda

This project was completed in collaboration with a team of engineers in Rwanda. They were keen to test the Structure in a Sub-Saharan context with the goal to explore several local attachment techniques and materials common in the region.

Deploy – The Structure units were piloted in Northern Rwanda, near the town of Roherengui, at the base of the volcanoes Sabinyo, Gahinga, Muhabura which denote the border between Rwanda and Uganda.

Upgrade The units were assembled by a local crew, with training and technical guidance from the Better Shelter team and upgraded with local materials such as thatch, wattle and daub and bamboo, all locally-available resources in the area.

Upcycle – None yet. The units are still standing after two years and further evaluation will be made.

Pilot Structure with us!

To learn more about piloting the Structure with us, contact

David Karpathakis Thalén, Head of Product Development

Tim de Haas, Head of Technology

If you are a journalist and want to learn more about the project, contact

Märta Aretakis Terne, Head of Communications

Covid-19 response

Epidemics and pandemics put pressure on national and global health care systems. Rapid response to these requires solutions for unforeseen needs and care for a large number of patients.

As part of our work with partners responding to the Covid-19 pandemic in different countries, Structures have been used in pilots as

  • information hubs
  • mobile quarantine wards
  • offices for health care workers

In 2020, Better Shelter shipped out almost 3,000 RHUs for use in covid-19 response efforts in 22 countries. Piloting Structure throughout the pandemic, we began to facilitate the deployment of a reliable frame in support of Covid-19 relief efforts in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India

For inquiries, contact our Partnerships Manager Lucia Arias Kapetinic

For more information on our pilots, check out the Pilots page.

How we can support

We offer support before, during and after project implementation


  • Project planning
  • Layout design
  • Modularity options
  • Logistic support
  • Research and Development


  • Assembly training
  • Installation support
  • Implementation support and supervision
  • Technical support
  • Product expertise

Follow up and support

  • Maintenance and partner support
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Communications support

To learn more about how Better Shelter can support in your project, get in touch with our product and support team today.


15 Structure units were installed by Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) and Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), both member organizations of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)  throughout the country. 

AKAH/AKHS received remote training and technical support from the Better Shelter team based in Stockholm.

The Structure units were used in support of Covid-19 relief efforts as:

  • SART base
  • Changing rooms
  • Triaging for Covid-19


15 Structure units were installed by Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH – member organization of the Aga Khan Development Network/AKDN) throughout Tajikistan with tarpaulin/plastic sheeting only, as most of the units were used in Covid-19 relief responses. The units were installed between 19th May and 16th June 2020 and upon completion, they were fully operational.

AKAH received remote training and technical support from the Better Shelter team based in Stockholm.

The Structure units were used in support of Covid-19 relief efforts as:

  • SART base
  • Double unit for triaging
  • District hospital extension
  • Handwashing facility


Protecting the rights to Home, Health and Education

Together with local and global partners, we not only offer shelter for families to live safely in. We also deploy modular shelters that serve as community buildings and classrooms to facilitate education and development for schoolchildren in displacement. Medical NGOs save lives and reduce suffering by offering vital care in thousands of our structures.

Where we work


A humanitarian shelter is a critical survival mechanism that, albeit temporary, should offer protection, safety and dignity until a permanent home in peace becomes available. It should be a secure a space where families can be together and cope with the trauma of displacement, as well as a foundation for physical and mental healing, for education, livelihood and protection. 

Projects include:


All projects


Epidemics and pandemics put pressure on national and global health care systems and rapid response to these requires solutions for unforeseen needs and care for a large number of patients. ​​The required infrastructure includes screening centres of suspected carriers, mobile quarantine facilities for infected patients, storage and office space as well as information centres.

Projects include:


All projects


Education builds knowledge and helps to protect children and young people in displacement. It saves lives, sustains communities and strengthens resilience.

Projects include:

  • INDIA: Coming Soon.​

All projects


Assembling a 17.5 m2 Structure requires a team of four people and takes approximately 1 hour depending on experience, conditions and location.

The shelter is delivered in two cardboard boxes which have been packed to reflect the order in which components will be used in construction. The two boxes can be lifted by two people each and contain all necessary tools and instruction manuals. The shelter is constructed in three stages:

  1. Frame foundation
  2. Walls and roofing steel frame
  3. Covering of frame with plastic sheeting or localised materials

More information about our technical support