Distressed Housing

A group believes it’s built an emergency shelter that could take the world by storm.



Ron Ben-Zeev says a World Housing Solution shelter can be erected using only simple hand tools. Four prefabricated houses will be set up in Haiti this month in a configuration shown in rendering.

Photo By Mike Boslet

The house Ron Ben-Zeev is selling isn’t much to look at and lacks even the most basic amenities–unless you consider a hammock for a bed an upgrade–but he thinks it’s the answer to housing shortages created in times of crisis.

The hexagonal house is bare, 185 square feet of emptiness that Ben-Zeev describes as a minimalist structure that provides maximum utility. “The closer you get to a circle, the more efficient the space,” he points out as he stands in a $5,000 model home designed with Haiti in mind.

Built with nonflammable and sustainable materials, the 10-panel prefabricated emergency shelter is portable, expandable, stackable and reusable, and it’s been engineered to withstand natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes at their deadliest worst. It can even float, says Ben-Zeev.

To the Winter Park resident and head of World Housing Solution (WHS), the house is The Next Big Thing in disaster relief. Four men using hand tools can erect a house in four hours, he says.

Sometime this month, the home’s designer, architect Kevin Schweitzer of New Symrna Beach, will arrive in Haiti with four units and a dream of thousands more to follow. A Haitian family of 11 will share the houses, which will be set up in Léogâne, the epicenter of a 7.0 quake that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced an estimated 600,000 in January 2010. Cooking and bathroom facilities will be placed outside the units, as is common in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere. 

Schweitzer says his design’s odd shape offers greater strength than a traditional structure with perpendicular corners. The walls are made of hardened foam sandwiched between sheets of phenolic resin, and they’re bolted in place.

“I have a product that can’t burn, termites can’t eat, resists mold and mildew, and meets earthquake and hurricane loads,” says Schweitzer, “and it’s fairly simple to manufacture.” 

That’s why Ben-Zeev is pitching the shelters to relief groups, including Habitat for Humanity, that are aiding Haiti. WHS also has designed a larger shelter for Japan, where more than 200,000 were displaced by the March 11 tsunami and subsequent nuclear power-plant disaster. A family of four would live in a 200-square-foot house that comes with a toilet, shower, kitchen and small refrigerator.

Closer to home, Ben-Zeev and Schweitzer see the sustainable materials used in the house as being applicable to green homebuilding. 

“Not a single plank of wood was used in the house,” Ben-Zeev says. “This is the industry of the future. It’s green, it’s efficient, and it has a humanitarian bent to it.”

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