What began as a student project at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar holds the potential to improve the living standards of migrant workers, the key element in the building boom for the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
A full-scale prototype of the migrant worker housing project - which uses modular, portable modules - is nearly complete in Education City and the stakeholders are looking at options for commercialisation of the concept.
“The project started at the Tasmeem 2007 International Design Conference from a student charrette to rethink migrant worker accommodation,” Peter Chomowicz, associate dean (research and development), VCUQatar, told Gulf Times.
The objective was to address the need for temporary labour accommodation - associated with Qatar’s rapid growth and development – through sustainable and economic options for application in urban, rural and remote construction site locations.
“When Qatar Foundation chairperson HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser heard of the project, she asked the students to present to her directly and she felt so passionately about the issue that she asked if it could be supported through a grant from Qatar Science & Technology Park,” Chomowicz recalled.
The proof of concept proposal was based on a business model that demonstrates cost effectiveness through reduced operating costs and intended to meet and surpass international standards for migrant workers’ living conditions.
QSTP sanctioned a $1.4mn grant and its Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme developed the business model.
“The initial idea to convert shipping containers for workers’ housing was not feasible, so we took their best aspects such as the portability, stackability and modular dimensions and designed a raw module,” explained Roman Turczyn, director, Center for Research, Design and Entrepreneurship at VCUQatar.
The team found companies in Dubai that weld shipping containers. “We showed them how our modules could be developed and placed using a connecting architecture, giving a lot more flexibility,” he said.
Chomowicz observed this helped keep the costs down. “We did not build a whole new factory, but just adapted an existing process to make our prototype cabins.”
The cabins are made of a 100mm thick structurally insulated panel with metal skin on both sides and semi rigid insulation in between. Light weight but structurally sound, the pre-finished panel has a welded steel frame.
“We coated the exterior with a thermo ceramic coating developed by Nasa to reflect up to 90% of the heat from sunlight as proved by the insulation value studies,” Turczyn revealed. This saved a lot of shading.
Simple technologies, low-cost, flexibility and a fair degree of efficiency are among the salient features of the prototype, with 4-, 10-person units.
The prototype is one half of a cluster. In a full cluster there would be 8-, 10-person units for a total of 80 persons. Half of the prototype is fitted out mechanically for air-conditioning and monitoring of thermal performance.
Construction started in late September 2011 when the modules arrived. The plot area is approximately 1,470sqm. The total area of the two-storey prototype is about 240sqm.
“The total area is a combination of both air-conditioned sleeping modules and outdoor living space which can be closed off by the occupants in inclement weather and take advantage of the secondary cooling from the sleeping modules,” Turczyn said.
It is shown in the diagrams and sketches how this model could be used for 6, 16, 20, or 40 people in various configurations but always keeping with the principle that everyone has their own private space.
“There are no bunk beds. Our students designed a furniture system, specific for this purpose. The beds are elevated so that we use all the space under the beds for storage, and even small refrigerators for storing food,” Turczyn explained.
“There will be movable garment cabinets, reading lights, curtain for privacy, basically modelled on some of the berths seen on trains or ships, where things are compact but everyone has their own space.
“The advantage of our system is that the concept can be configured for as little as six people and be replicated for large camps and keep intact the social principles driving our design,” he stated.
According to Chomowicz, the next stage in the project should be to do research on how people would live in the modules.
“We have been testing the architecture and theories, really now we need to put people in it and see how do they live, how do they interact, are their lives being made better, are they healthier, more productive, and happier.
“We really need to think about how to move it into commercialisation so that industry partners would want to work on this with us in the next phase. And all that needs more funding,” he added.