Transitional Earthbag Shelters in Syria

UNHCR is building transitional earthbag shelters in Syria
UNHCR is building transitional earthbag shelters in Syria

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a test project for temporary shelters made from bags filled with earth in Syria. The architect, Anas Aljbain, is using ARCHICAD to develop the designs.

Size: 44 m2/473 ft2
Constructed using bags filled with earth, this type of transitional shelter gives the beneficiaries involved an opportunity to work and earn an income — which could also stimulate the start of small business opportunities. Earth-bag house construction is an efficient way to solve the need for basic homes that can be built within a short period of time. Furthermore, the earth-bag house construction system does not require a deep knowledge of construction and can be built by the people who will live in them. Earth is the most fundamental element of earth-bag construction, with many types of earth available around the world. Simple and easy tests can be done manually to decide the methodology of construction using the earth-bag system. An optimal, packed earth to soil ratio is approximately 30% clay to 70% sand.

He estimated the cost per square meter is 12,500 SYP (US$41). By attaching the houses side-by-side, each house (51 square meters/549 square feet including walls) will cost approximately US$1,850. The total cost per block is approximately US$ 13,000. The wash unit will cost an additional US$3,000.

Compared to tents, the earth-bag house has many advantages without being a permanent construction; they can easily be dismantled and the materials can be re-purposed. The transitional shelters consist of two rooms and a kitchenette.

The benefits of this type of transitional shelter are many. The earth-bag houses are:

-Easy to learn and user-friendly – the simplicity of an earthbag building makes them easy to build by unskilled people or communities;
-Strength – an earth-bag wall is extremely strong, owing to its thickness and weight, thus is considerably more resistant to high winds or other destructive forces (earthquake, flood, etc.);
-Adaptable – it is easy to alter the position of wall openings during construction, or to dismantle an incorrectly placed wall and subsequently rebuild it with the very same material. Services – plumbing, electrical and other services can easily be fixed to the earth-bag wall.
-Safety – there are no piles of bricks on site that may be subject to theft, just the bags, which are easily secured, and a pile of earth, which has no value. Furthermore, the earth-bag house has an excellent fire resistance, is bullet- and to a certain extent mortar proof;
-Remote locations – as mainly the bags need to be transported to the site, an earth-bag building can be erected at remote sites.

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6 thoughts on “Transitional Earthbag Shelters in Syria”

  1. Dear Owen, Dear all,
    I just noticed this thread recently, and i am honored by that because I’ve learnt a lot from Own’s tutorials when we were in the planning phase for this project. i am happy to answer any question and have more photos if necessary.
    with regard to the roofing question, we executed a flat-muddy roof with hay layer for insulation, which a traditional-ancient way of roofing systems in Syria. it is still being used in some rural areas as an ‘affordable’ technique.

    all the best

  2. Is the proposed roofing to be canvas or sheet metal? Won’t this be very hot? Better than a tent, and not as comfortable as a well ventilated dome. Has your experience discouraged you from presenting domes as an option?

    • They’re not showing the finished roof, so I don’t know what they’re doing. I doubt if it’s just canvas.

      Domes would be an option for Syria because it’s dry. People get into trouble when they build domes in rainy climates. Also, domes would be more culturally accepted in Syria I would imagine.

  3. suggest that kitchen and toilets don’t HAVE to be inside! kitchens can move depending on climate, inside or out, toilets, so so helpful without water! composting toilets, can easily be done; responsibly,for using compost after for improving earth for gardens.
    have been doing this on our place in Calif; desert for the past 8 years, great! easy! also suggest that dome building can make roof be same as walls, less stuff for building. cluster, add on. start with single. simpler; good idea, not only make homes & learn to make for others!
    show & tell at 3 Moons project, see, face book, in Ca. desert, jehane

  4. Note how the drawing shows earthbag tubing made into long bags with large overlaps between courses. This is a very strong building technique.


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