Gallery: DESIGN FOR DISASTER: The Accordion reCover Shelter


With two million residents recently forced to evacuate the Gulf Coast, the need for emergency housing has never been more evident. There’s nothing flimsy about the intricate folds of the reCover Shelter, which can sustain a family of four following a disaster for up to a month. As you may suspect, the oversized origami structure can be entirely collapsed into not one, but two different shapes (either horse-shoe or flat) depending on which is easier to transport. Plus, it’s composed of polypropylene, meaning no harmful gases go into the production of the shelter and it is 100% recyclable after use. Set-up takes minutes and only requires one person on deck.

We’re watching Tropical Storm Gustav in hopes that no one will have to put the Accordion reCover Shelter to good use anytime in the near future, but it’s cool enough that we just might consider pitching the folded structure on a campsite just for the fun of it.

The Accordion reCover Shelter was designed as a first response shelter – “something that could be transported to the site when infrastructures such as roads were unusable”. Once the temporary residence is unfolded, the functional ridges can be used to collect drinking water, and local materials or even ground cover can be used to better insulate the structure and keep harsh weather at bay. As a sustainable and inexpensive solution to an unfortunate situation that seems to arise more and more often these days, the Accordion Shelter provides a quick roof over victim’s heads and lets them start planning immediately for better days to come.

The Accordion reCover Shelter was designed by Matthew Malone, Amanda Goldberg, Jennifer Metcalf and Grant Meacham. They have successfully constructed and tested two full-size prototypes and have found them to hold up well against heavy winds and snow.

Via Yanko Design


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  1. tykebe February 11, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Matt do you still check this thread? I’m interested in what pattern you used to complete the folds of the structure. It appears there isn’t an internal frame?

  2. tygger281 November 14, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Ok, as a former chemist and polymers researcher, I can tell that most of you know little to nothing about using plastic. And all you extreme greenies – get over your prejudice about “oil product.” Algae would then be considered feedstock for oil..which it IS!

    It’s a VERY INTERESTING DESIGN! Keep in mind – polypropylene is formed due to extreme heat and pressure. High density PP can have similar properties to CONCRETE – not even a BLOW TORCH can light it up! In such cases, a fire would have to be engulfing, just as it would be in a metal building. And even metal melts.

    Now, I don’t know if this structure is HDPP or not. I am saying that you are making many assumptions about the use of a product that many of you know little to nothing about. This shelter is EXCITING to me! Particularly the possibility for water collection! I am forming an eco-campground and would LOVE to put these in it!

  3. Marquith Muhammad January 6, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I can completely vouch for Matt Malone and the rest, because I was there and I had to help them move this thing in and out of Smith Hall at Syracuse University. I had a similar project to do the year before, and we actually had to sleep in these things in the forest, in an area where it sometimes snows all the way into May. So if you guys have a problem with the practicality of the design, it’s understandable, every design brings up those questions.

    But as for its existence, they put the time, effort and energy into creating these things full-scale, AND using them. That first picture was taken from a first- or second-story window from Smith Hall. As for the snow, Photoshopped? Really? Seriously? I’m not going to take jabs at anyone’s design skills or the lack thereof, but I really just felt that as a witness, I should stand up for those who actually did put in the work, and actually used what they made.

    -Marquith Muhammad

  4. matt malone October 31, 2008 at 12:26 am

    donald walters… your engineering degree must be just about as impressive as your design degree…non existent? Just like the shelter that exists? Don’t leave uneducated moronic comments all over the internet… it makes you look like a moron

  5. matt malone October 2, 2008 at 12:12 am

    I was one of the designers of this shelter… And aside from how ridiculous it is to read these uneducated comments, it is even more unsettling that some of you call yourselves designers. Since when is design about coming up an unquestionable solution to the worlds problems?

    First off, I didn’t post this looking for recognition. It was ripped off of my coroflot account because it was a student project done several years ago.

    If you think this is photoshopped, you have obviously never used photoshop before. But you right, we didn’t build a full scale model of this… We built two… and lived in one for 4 days in march of 2006 in Syracuse NY… that is where the snow came from genius.

    This was designed as a “first response shelter to help disaster relief victims”… In situations where roads are unusable hense FIMA TRAILERS can not be used… That is because they have wheels ( round things that need roads to roll on).

    This project was about identifying a serious problem and attempting to solve it in 3 WEEKS with a full scale and real solution… Let me know when you come up with a better one cause I would love to comment on it…

    Grow up

  6. professorzed September 6, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I thought this was quite an excellent idea at first. The designers have certainly addressed a major need, which is to provide large amounts of emergency shelters quickly and cheaply for evacuated families. Such as the Katrina disaster for example. Any such structure would also be of interest to the military.

    I was however, a little skeptical after reading some of the comments read here. I think that the principle of a structure made from polyethylene is a sound one. Polytunnels are made out of polyethylene. I think the idea of having an archway shape to resist wind is also a sound principle, since the archway is one of the strongest shapes in nature. It should resist the wind, provided it is not facing the wind. In this case, the wind would rush through the structure.

    As far as hereitcomesagain’s remark:

    “Also, refugees in camps generally are cooking, if not heating, with fire. Try to tell me that thing isn’t a big flat chunk of folded petrol. I see photoshopped snow on one illustration. How are they heating in there? Charcoal? Propane? Where do the toxic gases and smoke escape?”

    I should like to point out that NOBODY builds a fire in a tent, EVER. Any cooking in a refugee camp would be done OUTSIDE of a living structure, likely in a camp kitchen. As far as heating goes, there would probably be no direct heating inside. On extremely cold nights, you could bring hot rocks or hot water bottles into your structure to warm up your sleeping bag. After all, there is no heating in an Igloo, and these are warm enough to live in. As the designers stipulate, insulation for a structure such as this could be provided by packing earth or snow around the walls (provided the walls can withstand this).

    What I am mostly disappointed to learn though, is that this design is a rehashing of something which has already been done, and done much better, more than forty years ago. I am referring to the migrant shelters which biscuit has pointed out.

    The use of kraft paper AND polyethylene makes these structures not only cheaper and lighter, but also more breathable so you don’t end up suffocating in what is essentially ‘a big plastic bag’ (as ‘hereitcomesagain’ points out.) Making the structure breathable also eliminates condensation within, so you don’t have to worry about the constant drip, drip, dripping of everyone’s sweat and the moisture from their breath collecting on the ribs of the ceiling.

  7. mpelosi September 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I am in the temporary/ transitional business; an owner of Global Village Shelters.
    I am not going to get into the design issues here but wanted to clarify some stuff about the material.
    The PP material is biologically inert and does not off gas. It is expensive to make and such a thin qauge would prove troublesome for a snow load of any substance. In addition to the load, the thinner the PP the less weather-proof it is. Even with an added UV component, there is a strong correlation between thickness and degredation of the material.

    A comment above mentions the cooking aspect of the shelter. It is important to consider this in any shelter design- a stove pipe aperture should be factored into the overall design from the get-go. However many cultures will not cook inside and prefer an outdoor area behind the sleeping shelter, making the aperture a good option but not a standard feature. This design could benefit from some soffit vents and serious consideration to water collection/ drainage, how? where?

    Anyways, the general ideas are going in the right direction…but always keep thinking. This would be a sleep-only shelter and probably only for emergency use (immediate deployment)- the market is tiered: Emergency (think tarps), Temporary (1-6mos), transitional (6mos-2yr and often using materials that could be integrated into a permanent home) and then semi-permanent/ permanent,

    I am babbling…

  8. biscuit September 4, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    This shelter design (folded planes to create space) was done by Sim Van der Ryn in 1966 for Migrant Workers shelters in California:

    Van der Ryn’s project was more thoroughly realized, with solutions for doors, windows, and floors…and was actually executed full scale and used for shelter- not just one, but a whole camp full. He received multiple design awards for this project.

    Its unfortunate that a rehash as blatant as this (and as incomplete, even conceptually!) is touted as something new and cutting edge. Boo!

  9. hybrid September 4, 2008 at 6:23 am

    FEMA? Really? It’s one thing to add criticism with ways to improve a design, but saying FEMA is fairly laughable as they are terrible for living purposes being toxic and all.

  10. hereitcomesagain September 4, 2008 at 12:57 am

    There is a reason that poly bags and buckets have warnings not to let kids play with them, which also applies here. This thing would not be breathable, which means that if the open end fell down, those inside, for instance children or disabled adults lacking the strength to open it, would be suffocated.

    Also, refugees in camps generally are cooking, if not heating, with fire. Try to tell me that thing isn’t a big flat chunk of folded petrol. I see photoshopped snow on one illustration. How are they heating in there? Charcoal? Propane? Where do the toxic gases and smoke escape?

  11. dimtick September 3, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I gotta side wiwth O2 on this one. very impractival design. the king of folding….Chuck Hoberman has a much better emergency shelter design which I believe is being used in Iraq (not cetain of that).

    check out:

  12. christolles September 3, 2008 at 11:14 am

    i actually would like to defend the designers for actually making a full-size prototype. in contrast to the other commentors here, i don’t think that first photo is photoshopped at all, and while my criticisms remain, i’m actually really impressed that they made a full-scale prototype!

  13. christolles September 3, 2008 at 8:57 am

    while it certainly is a beautiful object, i\’m suspicious that the designers simply looked at the paper-folding exercises every one of us has done in design school, and simply made it bigger. experiments being translated into real, functional products is the crux of good design, and this seems to me to be a far too simplistic scaling-up of an interesting paper model.

    how does one close the door? what about drainage? flooring? how much does it weigh? how does one integrate cooking? heating?

    have the designers talked to a single person who actually works with emergency shelter? kudos for an elegant structure, but i wish more designers would just start with an internship at UN-HABITAT…

  14. donaldwaters September 3, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Cute idea – but it\’s blatantly just 3D images and photoshop. Meaning that it is… meaningless.
    It would be nice if people submitting this kind of stuff actually took the time to MAKE it!
    Take a look at Shigeru Ban\’s work, and his methodical approach to engineering factors – plus the fact that he makes everything before he says that – \’it can sustain a family of four for one month…\’, \’Set up requires only minutes… and one person\’…
    You actually have no idea, because you have not actually made this device. It merely exists in a zero-G virtual world (both your own empty head and your computer harddrive). My knowledge of engineering suggests the first strong wind and it\’ll be turned into what origami originally was – a flattened sheet. Prove me wrong – fine, if not then stop putting unproven rubbish out.
    Can peoiple start to get off their butts and actually prove their naieve lazy claims – then I would maybe actually take this stuff seriously.
    Very lame!

  15. O2 September 3, 2008 at 7:23 am

    Its obvious that the people who designed this have never been camping. The first 20mph gust will take care of that. More pointless fluffy designer crud. Get me one of those FEMA trailers.

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