Sheltainer. All renders supplied by the architecture team.
Sheltainer. All renders supplied by the architecture team.

Shortlisted for two 2018 WAF Awards, urban development concept Sheltainer looks to solve Cairo's cemetery housing phenomenon

Created by Dubai-based architects Bassel Omara, Mouaz Abouzaid and Ahmed Hammad, Sheltainer, which aims to convert shipping containers into homes for refugees and displaced persons, has been shortlisted for two World Architecture Festival 2018 awards. 

Highly commended at Middle East Architect 2017 Awards, Sheltainer looks to support refugees, asylum seekers, students and people of low income jobs and uses the standard 20ft container, as well as the smaller 10ft variety and the larger 40ft crate for its structures. 

Listed in the Future Projects and WAFx Ethics & Value categories, Sheltainer's designs can be adapted to any environment due to the container's flexibility and its ability to provide excellent insulation, the architects said last year, adding that there are over 30 million unused containers around the world. If they were laid end-to-end, the containers could circle the world more than twice.

“Home is not a place, it’s a feeling. People are connected to their homeland. Growing up in an environment with family and friends fuels people’s souls with a promising future. But being forced out [of homes] due to starvation, the economy, or even politics creates insecurity," the architects said. "Twenty people are newly displaced every minute, and that becomes a challenge to provide a stable community that can cope with these rapid changes.”

The team originally highlighted two countries to focus on: Syria, where more than half the population has been displaced, and South Sudan, where the refugee population swelled from 854,100 to more than 1.4 million during the second half of 2016. This year, the team has taken the scheme further to address housing problems in Egypt. 

"The concept is based on micro-housing solutions, which target the less fortunate," the architects told Middle East Architect. "Last year we focused on the micro-scale challenge by analysing the simple human needs that can solve the crises in third world countries. This year, we looked at the bigger picture and shifted from micro to macro. We chose to provide a new hope for the people living in the cemeteries of Cairo, where life and death are side by side. The cemetery housing phenomenon in Egypt is just one manifestation of the larger problem in Egypt, and it is our professional and moral duty to spare part of our time and effort and think of solutions."

According to the architects, over recent decades, an influx of people have gravitated towards the Cairo Necropolis -- the city’s oldest burial site, which dates back to the seventh century. Today, the number of residents in the Islamic cemetery amounts to around 1.5 million.

"From a micro perspective, [we] are taking a closer look at the details starting from single human needs to the neighbourhood scale," they said. "Our design focuses on a single housing unit with all the necessary needs for a small family, combining it into one cluster that serves as a small neighbourhood of eight homes surrounding a green courtyard."

The architects added that the macro challenge is removing the graves from the heart of the capital, which would provide new patches of land within Egypt's most prime real estate. Giving Cairo a new "lung" that would allow it to breath, this change would also provide a "human" residence and perhaps solve the city's vehicle congestion by creating a new road network. 

Sheltainer also looks at the informal market, Souk Al Jumaa, which now extends into the cemetery's premises, as it serves the daily needs of the residential community there. 

"Sheltainer found its new destination as it is clear there is a need for a flexible solution to redesign the old market and increase the usability of the area," the architects said, "while maintaining its current activities along with new open spaces, activities, homes and above all, new hope."