Beautiful, affordable architecture from pallet racks

“Freeman Murray cofounded Jaaga, a Bangalore-based company aimed at helping developing countries build core infrastructure from pallet racks — easily-assembled, heavy-duty warehouse shelving components.”


11 thoughts on “Beautiful, affordable architecture from pallet racks”

  1. I have built several pallet rack structures in the past two years. I will provide links to photos, and answer questions about safety if you like.

    They are most affordable when you buy them from a company going out of business. I bought 20 uprights and who knows how many cross members for $600 from a liquidator that was downsizing his operation and no longer needed them. I would not consider purchasing them new as that would be cost prohibitive, but check them out for defects that would disqualify their use.

    They are an “alternative building material” so you need to check local regulations that allow or disallow their use. I have worked in two places that allow it, and am planning a building in a third location in northern Nevada that also allows it. I have used the two story workshop for a few years with no problems, and have accumulated a lot of helpful tips about cladding and roofing.

    I was inspired by the Ted Talk, but couldn’t find photos or helpful information so I dove in and made it up as I went along.

  2. I’ve built two structures using pallet racks after ditching them as a storage system in my 50,000 sq ft Architectural woodworking plant. I’ve seen the videos of the things going down like dominos so we upgraded to a more robust system. That being said, we kept some in service in ways they didn’t create risk, but we still had a lot left over. If you design a building with them the risks created when using them in a warehouse can be overcome because you don’t line them up like you would in a warehouse. That would be totally unappealing. You bolt and weld components together after you snap them together. They’re also bolted to a concrete slab or pads. The engineering specifications are published, so a certified Structural Engineer can do a design review, put a stamp on it and you are good to go get your building permit. I’m familiar with all of this process because I’ve been building commercial interiors and interfacing with the design, engineering and construction industry for almost 50 years. I think pallet rack construction has a lot of potential in providing low cost housing. The guy in the TED talk is on it.

  3. I believe, with the right safeguards in place, pallet racks could be an awesome building medium. The videos shown to convince you otherwise are just scare tactics based on unrealistic situations. Yes, warehouse racks, full 10s of 1000s of pounds of liquid, configured in a linear line, did not survive an earthquake. I don’t know of any houses that are built in a linear fashion, i.e. one 4′ wide room by 20′ tall and 50′ long. Building are stabilized with angles. These angles are tied together with other segments that are angled and you have squares, rectangles and other stable shapes where each joint stabilizes and supports the others. A wooden structure, built in the same dimension and shape as the warehouse racks in the videos, would have collapsed long before the steel structure did. Most housing structures also have some wall material that binds the skeletal frame together – sheetrock, OSB, plywood. Once this sheathing is bound to the skeleton, you get an incredibly strong building. Again, something the warehouse rack that fell down did not have. And really, who would ever think of a 4 story earth bag structure? We’re currently building a storage unit out of used warehouse racks. You could run into the thing with a truck without any fear of it collapsing. Great vision, Freeman Murray. I would love to see some updates on what the past year has brought. – Jay

  4. Reflexively skeptical there Jay :) now go a step further :)
    The racks in those videos seemed 100% full , even overloaded (vodka is heavy).
    And did you know that earthquake zones have different pallet needs?
    Some folks always buy the cheaper model and overload .
    If we assume a four foot cube pallet (64 cubic feet, 478.8 gallons)
    filled to the brim with vodka, that is 478.8 gallons of vodka is 3780 lb
    that is like like 21 people worth (185lb avg, naked)
    average residential room (14’x20′) occupancy limit is 5 people
    you can’t put that many people on 4’x4′ unless you’re stacking people
    so even the cheapest pallet racks look like safe housing for humans
    but like anything, you can’t just slap things together (or overload),
    just like earthbag, you need qualified personelle to do proper installation
    see for yourself, northridge earthquake, overloaded racks failed while others survived — details :)

    • Thanks for the comment. I was in a supermarket just the other day looking at the racks while waiting in line. They sure looked strong to me. It’s true what you say about professional guidance.

  5. Pallet racks are not exactly cheap. The numbers he is quoting sound unrealistic to me. Old rusty used racks that are bent up or have rusty attachment holes are cheaper, but would anyone want to trust their life to that?

    Racks aren’t exactly a high surplus item, at least ones with the quality one would need to support humans. However, cost is a trivial concern compared to the big picture.

    Ever seen how pallet racks react in a warehouse after a small earthquake? It can be frightening!!!

    This is from a 6.1 quake.

    One small locking pin pops out of place, and it’s like a domino effect. Note that the rack didn’t just fall over. It’s all bent up and destroyed at the end of the video.

    I’m glad that guy ran for his life at the beginning of the video. Smart move!!

    Pallet racks also have a large number of critical failure points any one of which can bring down the entire rack.

    Check out this accident. Only one upright was hit, yet massive catastrophic failure occurs. There simply is no redundancy in pallet racks.

    Any volunteers want to live on those racks?

    Shouldn’t a structure that holds human life be able to withstand one area getting damaged without the entire structure collapsing? They didn’t simply come apart. The metal members turned into pretzels. It’s not hard to imagine all those boxes being furniture, appliances, windows, and people.

    Multi-story housing needs to be built much stronger. MUCH STRONGER.

    I don’t even recommend using pallet racks as scaffolding.

    In my humble opinion, there are better options for building housing. I’m not a fan of using pallet racks for humans.

  6. Too much talk and too much shaking of the hands. SHOW me and the audience these completed structures. Too much talk and little to “show” for it. Pardon the pun.

    • I’m guessing this is a fairly new idea and there’s not much yet to show. Give him credit though — it is a clever idea.

    • This post is a couple of years old, but I thought it’d be nice to mention that the building still stands:

      Is it earthquake proof? Probably not. Heck, for a 3 floor structure, you have to allow enough airflow otherwise storm winds could topple it. However, if you have a foundation to anchor it to, then things become a lot easier.
      As mentioned earlier, a structural engineer is necessary – Freeman himself has gained enough expertise with structural engineering now though. And it was regularly used to conduct events on the 2nd floor with more than 250 people attending.

      However, for a one-storey structure, it’s extremely safe. There are probably modifications you could explore and make to this to improve it.

      Reusability, low labour costs and quick setup (the entire building takes a day nowadays) are the primary benefits.


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