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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – "FutureShack" for Refugees - 2004-07-04

Broadcast: July 5, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Sean Godsell designs buildings. He is an award-winning architect in Australia. He is also active in social issues. Mister Godsell has designed an emergency shelter for refugees and homeless people. He calls the structure a FutureShack. But it is not really a building. Mister Godsell made it from an old shipping container used to transport goods.

The steel box is about six-and-a-half meters long and two-and-a-half meters wide. It is also two-and-a-half meters high.

Mister Godsell covered the inside with wood. Parts of the walls fold down to make beds and a table. The structure also has areas for cooking and bathing. There are two doors for airflow. And there is glass on part of the back wall. The top also has windows for light. Balanced above the top of the structure is an angled roof.

Mister Godsell says FutureShacks could be sent around the world in times of crisis. He estimates that each structure would cost about fifteen-thousand dollars if produced in large numbers.

But some critics have questioned how useful this temporary shelter would be in hot weather. Mister Godsell says air conditioners could be placed in the windows to cool the containers. These machines could even be powered with energy from the sun.

Yet there are also questions about the effect that FutureShacks might have on the future of refugees who have lost their homes. Norman Day is a professor of architecture in Australia. He has written that FutureShacks could rob refugees of the desire they need to rebuild their lives.

Mister Godsell says he got the idea when he was a student fourteen years ago. But he did not develop the structure until nineteen-ninety-nine. He entered the design into a competition organized by the group Architecture for Humanity. The competition was to design housing for returning refugees in Kosovo, the Serbian province now administrated by the United Nations. The FutureShack design was praised for its usefulness, but was not put into use.

A model built by Mister Godsell can be seen through October in New York City. It is at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Internet users can find out more about the FutureShack at That's

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.