Describing architecture as "instant" can mean different things to different people. During the post-War housing shortage, it meant prefab homes that went up in weeks. For disaster survivors, it can mean something as simple as a shelter that's assembled in hours. For the military, instant architecture often means truly instantaneous—hangars and medical tents that pop up in mere minutes.
Over the past few decades, as warfare has evolved and climate change has hastened the frequency of severe weather, we've seen "instant" buildings emerge as a topic in design schools and relief organizations. From shipping containers that unfold at the touch of a button to "buildings-in-a-bag" that need only water and air to be assembled, we're experiencing a renaissance in rapidly deployable architecture. Nine interesting examples—including a few from the past—follow.
Jean Prouvé's Maison Aluminium Métropole:
Jean Prouvé, who died in 1984, was one of the most vocal supporters of prefabrication. This classroom was the winning entry from a 1949 competition run by the French government, which asked architects to design a prefab package to provide classrooms and teacher housing in rural areas. Only 15 of the buildings were ever produced—but the design became definitive in modern architectural history. This stop-motion video, posted over on Dwell, shows one of the sets being assembled as part of a recent exhibition on Prouvé's work.
Assembly time: six days.
Building In a Bag:
Cement-impregnated cloth gives these shelters—which go up in under an hour—their nickname: "building in a bag." To set up the hard-shell tents, you spray the concrete cloth with water drape it over an inflated balloon until it dries. It's fireproof, immune to snow and rain, and lasts as long as a decade.
Assembly time: an hour or less.
QuaDror by Dror Benshetrit:
QuaDror is actually a structural component developed by the Israeli product designer Dror Benshetrit. QuaDror disaster shelters use the same component as a basic hinge for building shelter out of whatever happens to be lying around. It's a smart proposal, because even though it requires a bit of work on site, it's cheaper (and faster) to transport small components rather than entire shelters.
Assembly time: one day.
Shelter System for the B-2 Stealth Bomber:
Why does the B-2 need its own storage system? Because its stealth coatings require exacting temperature controls to maintain. And when the plane is in action, a good hangar isn't always easy to find. So the Air Force contracted a company called American Spaceframe Fabricators to design a system that can be transported anywhere and goes up fast. The military now owns a handful of the massive structures, which can be disassembled and reassembled as needed. The unique retraceable entryway is clam-shaped to accommodate the plane's wingspan. Similar shelters are now in use to house smaller aircraft, like these similar pop-up hangars.
Assembly time: roughly ten days.
Onagawa Temporary Container Housing by Shigeru Ban:
Japanese architect Shigeru Ban devoted most of his office's resources to helping the displaced find shelter after the 2011 tsunami. This community, in the town of Onagawa, gave earthquake survivors a place to live as their town was being rebuilt. Stacked shipping containers supply 1800 units of temporary housing, and one very beautiful community center provides meeting space.
Assembly time: several months.
Mobile Housing by Yatsutaka Yoshimura:
Japanese architect Yatsutaka Yoshimura recently unveiled a proposal for a mobile housing unit built to the specifications of a shipping container. This way, the finished homes can be transported to the crisis site aboard flatbed trucks, rather than assembled when they arrive.
Assembly time: one day.
Uniteam's Collapsible Military Shelters:
The Rapid Deployment Shelter System, or RDSS, arrives in a standard shipping container and unfolds at the touch of a button. The system was designed to improve on the military's standard tent system, giving temporary hospitals and combat centers instant access to air conditioning, wifi, and electricity.
Assembly time: two minutes.
Daisuke Sugawara Housing by Azuhito Nakano:
Being displaced from your home after a disaster affects people in a whole host of long-term ways, ranging from financial to emotional. The concept behind this community of 60 homes in Rikuzentakata (an area "wiped off the map" after the tsunami in 2011) was to encourage interaction between residents. The architects arranged the homes in an interlocking pattern that connects garden to garden—the hope being that residents will run into each other more often and build relationships.
Assembly time: a few weeks.
Liina Transitional Shelter:
"According to a 2007 report by Christian Aid," write the students behind this brilliant flatpack shelter, "the number of refugees worldwide is expected to exceed 1 billion by 2050." Liina, a modular shelter designed by Aalto University students, was designed to serve as a temporary home for refugees in colder climes. Using a system of interlocking wood panels and simple fabric straps, Liina only takes six hours to assemble after it's unpacked from its shipping container. And remarkably, it requires zero power tools.
Assembly time: six hours.