Norman Foster Foundation and Holcim reveal concrete emergency housing prototype

In this video produced for Holcim by Dezeen, Norman Foster introduces a housing prototype for displaced people that the Norman Foster Foundation developed with the building materials company and unveiled at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

The Essential Homes Research Project is a concept designed to sustainably provide rapidly assembled housing for people displaced by natural and manmade disasters.

Holcim and Norman Foster Foundation's housing prototype installed in a courtyard in Venice
Holcim and the Norman Foster Foundation have unveiled a housing prototype for displaced people

The prototype was designed by the Norman Foster Foundation and realised by Holcim using its materials.

The homes have been designed to offer a durable alternative to tent shelters in order to withstand the elements. They can be built on-site in order to expedite construction during emergencies.

Interior of Holcim and Norman Foster Foundation's housing prototype
The housing prototype was revealed during the Venice Architecture Biennale

The project responds to the fact that displaced people often end up living in temporary accommodation for more than a decade and require homes that offer safety and dignity.

"Disasters lead to the need for instant accommodation and camps – mostly tented – offering scant protection from the elements," Foster said in an exclusive video interview with Dezeen.

"What if there would be something that would be more permanent, more durable, offering greater protection from the elements, but which could be realised very quickly?"

Aerial view of Holcim and Norman Foster Foundation's housing prototype
The houses can be built on-site to speed up construction

The shelter comprises a catenary arch-shaped formwork over which a rollable canvas containing a low-carbon cement mix is draped. After being sprayed with water, the canvas dries and hardens, forming a solid shell.

"The canvas is impregnated with low-carbon cement," Foster said. "When you spray it with water, it stiffens in a few hours."

"It's closer to a home than a shelter," he continued.

Close up of entrance to Holcim and Norman Foster Foundation's housing prototype
The shelters are made with Holcim's rollable low-carbon concrete

Edelio Bermejo, head of research and development at Holcim, expressed the importance of sustainability in the video interview.

"An Essential Home is housing that provides safety, durability, dignity and wellbeing, and all that built in a sustainable way – by integrating low-carbon solutions, energy-efficient solutions and circular design principles," he said.

The homes can be linked with paths made from Holcim's ECOPact permeable concrete tiles, which are made with luminescent aggregates that absorb light and reflect it to enhance safety when light is scarce.

Close up of entrance to Holcim and Norman Foster Foundation's housing prototype
The shelters are designed to offer "safety, durability and dignity"

The homes are also built on top of a floor stabiliser made from construction and demolition waste aggregates, which removes the need for excavation to further speed up construction.

A real-size prototype of the housing concept has been presented during Venice Architecture Biennale, which takes place from 20 May to 26 November 2023.

Partnership content

This video was produced by Dezeen for Holcim as part of a partnership. Find out more about Dezeen partnership content here.