These Life-Saving Shelters are Made From Thousands of Plastic Bottles

An Amsterdam-based company is making temporary structures that can be adapted to a myriad of uses in poor communities susceptible to flooding.
Shelby Rogers

In the months following three devastating hurricanes, people in storm-affected areas are looking for better, sturdier, and more functional shelters. A company called Waterstudio in Amsterdam decided to craft their own unique and multipurpose buildings. These structures can withstand torrential downpours and are made to improve the living standards of slums near easily-affected areas. 

These Life-Saving Shelters are Made From Thousands of Plastic Bottles
Source: CityApp via Waterstudio

"The reality of climate change and more frequent and intense downpours has exposed the hubris of this approach," the company noted. "As the recent floods from Bangladesh to Texas show, it’s not just the unprecedented magnitude of storms that can cause disaster: it’s urbanization."

So, Waterstudio developed the City Apps project in order get the world one step closer to a "flood-proof" city. 

Koen Olthius founded Waterstudio and devotes his career to developing floating and amphibious structures (and only those structures). Olthius and his Waterstudio team of architects design each city app with multiple purposes in mind. A City App can be a storm shelter, classroom, sanitation unit, kitchen, and energy storage facility. The foundations are crafted from thousands of plastic bottles, giving the proper buoyancy and also making the project eco-friendly. 

Rather than try to block the water, the City App is designed to let the water flow wherever it wants outside the structure. Ultimately, Olthius wants to apply this concept to all civil engineering projects in areas threatened by flooding, storms, and rising sea levels. Amphibious architecture, he said, could transform city staples like stadiums and concert halls into more effective and safer rescue and relief units during the time of disasters.

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“For us,” said Olthius, “it’s the wetter, the better.”

The project took off in 2016 after Bangladesh experienced four powerful cyclones. That was a record in recent history for the country. Bangladesh's leading climate scientist Atiq Rahman predicted that sea levels could rise up to 17 percent by 2050. That figure could displace an estimated 18 million people in the country. 

Waterstudio delivered five of their City App structures to Dhaka, Bangladesh later this month. Testing was successful late last year. More specifically, the structures will be delivered to Korail, a low-income area of Dhaka. The hope is that the structures move to different neighborhoods as the needs arise. 

Each City App costs $53,000 USD with foundations made strictly from wooden pallets, wire, and plastic bottles. 

"Some people live very close to the water -- in vulnerable locations," said Olthuis. "They can use these structures to improve their neighborhoods."

Other Incredible Plastic Bottle Structures

City App and Waterstudio aren't the only projects tapping into the power of plastic bottles. 

Canadian Robert Bezeau developed a Plastic Bottle Village on a tiny island off the coast of Panama. Bezeau noted that bottles work well both as a water-proof housing material but also as an effective insulation system. And, similar to the City App project, Bezeau's Plastic Bottle Village can be deconstructed and used for life rafts in the event of major flooding in the area. 

Plastic bottles are also being used in areas where rain isn't normally a problem; heat is. A former refugee made temporary housing structures in an Algerian desert community. The bottles, combined with mud brick, helps to cool the structures while also providing shelter for the rare but devastating rains that can come. 

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