RCA students design wearable dwelling for Syrian refugees


A group of students from London's Royal College of Art have designed a prototype coat for refugees that transforms into a tent or a sleeping bag (+ movie).

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

Made from paper-like synthetic material Tyvek, the Wearable Habitation coat is insulated with Mylar – a polyester material commonly used by marathon runners to keep warm.

When worn as a coat, the design resembles a baggy parka with a large hood. Pockets on the inside can be used to store passports and personal documents.

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

Black zips allow the coat to be completely opened out and transformed into a sleeping bag. Lightweight kite-rods can then be fed through specific seams to form a tent. Visual assembly instructions will be printed onto each garment.

"We spoke with Médecins Sans Frontières to get an idea of what a refugee's journey truly was," said Harriet Harris, one of the project leaders. "Our garment has three stages of use: one as a piece of clothing, one as a sleeping bag and one as a tent."

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

"These three aspects adapt to the conditions a refugee would experience through their two- to five-week journey," she told Dezeen.

The coat was developed by mixed teams of students from the RCA's interior design and textile courses, who were asked to develop wearable shelters for those displaced by conflict in their home countries.

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

The brief for the Wearable Habitation project – set by professors Harris and Graeme Brooker – stated that the coats had to be able to reconfigure into a small dwelling or tent-like structure with enough room to accommodate two to four people. Material used needed to be both cost effective and sustainable where possible.

"The original design project was run as a team-based, one-week 'hackathon' – we wanted imaginative ideas as our starting point," said Harris. "We then merged three of the strongest design proposals into one coherent proposal that is now with the factory for prototyping."

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

A Kickstarter campaign to fund the first batch of coats aims to raise £300,000 by the end of February, after which point the team believes it can become self-sufficient.

"Once we have the prototypes back from the factory in China we will engage with refugees and conduct site visits, plus rigorous testing to further improve the garment," Harris said. "The completed testing and prototyping of this version will inform designs for a winter version and a child version."

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

In response to Europe's ongoing refugee crisis, disaster relief and humanitarian projects formed one of the biggest design and architecture topics of 2015.

Last year, artist Banksy sent materials from his dismantled Dismaland theme park to the Jungle refugee camp near Calais, where it will be used to construct shelters for some of the region's 7,000 refugees.

Wearable Habitation by Royal College of Art students

Currently, Scottish design agency Suisse is raising funds to develop its RD-Shelter prototype, which could be rapidly deployed to house people displaced by war or natural disasters.

"Good design isn't about technologies and devices – it has a social heart and a role to play in meeting the needs of people facing impossible challenges," said Harris. "Right now, working solutions to the current crisis are limited and the suffering doesn't seem to stop."

"Whilst our wearable won't solve the whole problem it addresses a small part of it," she added.

Photography is by Joshua Tarn.

Project credits:

Design team: Gabriella Geagea Anne, Sophie Geay, Cassie Buckhart, Eve Hoffman, Anna Duthie, Jess Wang, Hailey Darling, Zara Ashby, Ruben Van Bossche and Guilia Silovy.

  • Jordan

    You’re kidding right. How blind is this absolutely politically correct and corrupt hippy world? THEY DON’T DESERVE ANYTHING. Students from London must be the stupidest on planet earth. On the other hand, nice design but give it to deserving people – flood victims and deserving refugees, NOT ECONOMIC MIGRANTS.

    • Max

      Great, it’s a body bag. Take a hard look at yourself.

    • DavidGoldiee

      Did you get lost on your way to the Daily Mail?

      • Jordan

        I can’t tell if you’re joking but hey, people are politically incompetent these days.

        • Gavin

          What is a closed-minded bigot like you doing on an open-minded design website like this?

  • Pierre

    Ku Klux Klan?

  • But will the Danish government confiscate this under their new law?

  • Dean

    The concept has received much thought, with the best intentions. And I’m sure it responds to the assignment brief.

    It seems ironic, though, that the most prestigious Arts school in the UK is designing garments for refugees to wear during their “journey”. As if it were a contemplative experience for those who partake.

    In no way does this effort assist in the refugee crisis – it has no political effect nor any social impact on the reception of migrants in host countries.

    Let’s give them a crisp white, multi-use sports jacket, with passport and document holders, and disregard the key issue of displacement from war and terror.

    • Ian Nairn

      So, your criticism is basically; “Nice design, but since it’s not a unicorn horn duct taped to the Philosopher’s stone and draped in the Turin Shroud, GTFO.” The project responds to the brief set, not your cocktail of personal ideology, grievance and quotation-mark cynicism.

      • Dean

        The quotation-mark is not cynicism, it demonstrates an extract from the article. I suggest reading it actually.

        By the way, displacement is real. It’s not a cocktail of ideology or grievance.

        The design will do nothing to assist refugees in the long-term. It’s a high-fashion approach that denies any notion of an actual humanitarian crisis.

        • Ian Nairn

          The point is that you can’t dismiss something just because its not a panacea. You’ve written your own impossible brief and applied it retrospectively to a student project.

          Can you explain how this “denies any notion of an actual humanitarian crisis”. It’s not exactly a crocodile skin maxi dress.

          • Dean

            The project is narrow-minded and only looks at part of the problem. It doesn’t take great intellect to see that, Ian. If you think that the burning desire of refugees is to have designer clothing from the RCA, then you’re clearly daft.

          • Ian Nairn

            I think you’re treating something extremely complex (as in, made up of a myriad of individually addressable problems) as resolvable with one solution. What you’re actually lusting after is a magic wand, in which case can I suggest some Harry Potter fan-fiction sites that might be more your speed.

          • Dean

            You need to stop referencing Harry Potter – it denigrates your voice of “reason”.

          • Ian Nairn

            When did I previously mention Harry Potter? You do realise that the Philosopher’s Stone was conceived by the ancient greeks, not JK Rowling, right? I think you need to put down your copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and go outside.

          • SteveLeo

            I’m not sure which is better: ‘Harry Potter and the Turin Shroud’ or ‘Harry Potter and the Denigrated Voice of Reason’.

          • Dean

            Hook, line, and sinker.

  • Pipi

    This is all about self-loathing designers trying to make a “humble” statement. In reality it’s all about obtaining that “cool” factor/imagery of watching poor/rugged individuals wearing some crisp and trendy hipster-like coat.

    Ultimately achieving the “we are for the poor” elite-designer orgasm. The stark contrast between poverty-driven imagery and clean, expensive, designer crap has always seemed to entice fame-hungry designers.

    “Design” doesn’t need to exist in EVERYTHING. Nor should it resolve EVERYTHING.

  • Derek_V

    How obscene to use the plight of Syrians for your own virtue signalling while studying at one of the most elitist art schools in the world.

    • Kate

      The RCA makes me sick. It’s a rich kid’s day care centre. Cashed-up moma and papa need to take a look at themselves.

    • Puz

      So well put my friend.

    • fsaad

      Could not agree more. Absolute nonsense.

  • J

    I’m sorry to have to say this, but it needs to be said. Design cannot solve the refugee crisis.

    This coat will not solve the crisis either. Donate your clothes instead for this will be expensive to produce and ship.