Ukrainian Architects Test New Modular Emergency Enclosures to Get Fast

In March, Russia’s attacks that brutally killed hundreds of civilians, including children shot while trying to escape, also destroyed or damaged more than 2,500 homes in Bucha, Ukraine. Now the municipality is rushing to build new homes. And a new pilot project aims to demonstrate how temporary homes can be built quickly and potentially replicated across the country, which must be rebuilt after so many buildings have been destroyed during the invasion.

[Photo: Maryan Beresh/courtesy Balbek Bureau]Today, with more than 7 million Ukrainians displaced in the country (alongside millions of others who have crossed the border into other parts of Europe), many people still live in basic shelters. “Many of them have settled in places that are not suitable for long-term living, such as school gyms,” said Kiev-based architect Slava Balbek, who designed the new modular housing system called RE:Ukraine. The team studied what worked — and what didn’t — in more than 20 other temporary housing projects built after other disasters around the world.

[Image: Balbek Bureau]Their design includes an apartment complex that will be offered rent-free to displaced families, with shared space for kitchens, bathrooms, nurseries and washing machines, arranged so that families can avoid waiting in line. The architects wanted to focus on the dignity of residents, something that is often lacking in emergency housing. There is also a shared space for recreation. “In addition to providing residents with fully furnished private rooms and apartments, RE:Ukraine aims to promote socialization and stress relief,” says Balbek. “We want to help people who have endured the atrocities of war, adapt smoothly to the new environment and build bonds with each other.”

[Image: Balbek Bureau]Another common area offers space to work or study and on the second floor there is space for more temporarily displaced persons. In an outdoor workshop, the design team is testing new construction technology to investigate how often the components can be disassembled and reassembled without loss of quality. The pilot plans to test the design with 15 families for nine months before dismantling the building and reusing the components elsewhere. “Technical details aside, we will examine how residents interact with the space and process their feedback to optimize future settlements: what they like, what is missing, which zones need to be enlarged, what turned out not to be necessary,” he says.

[Image: Balbek Bureau]The pilot site, currently an empty field, is near local infrastructure, which has been “essential to us in terms of integrating residents into the local community,” Balbek says. “This part is often overlooked when planning temporary housing for [internally displaced people], and people become isolated in the suburbs of the city.” The campsite in Bucha is also just an hour’s drive from the center of Kiev.

[Image: Balbek Bureau]Construction preparation, including site finding and masterplan development, took most of the summer. Now the architects are raising money for the construction. Because the modular design can be built relatively quickly, they expect to build the pilot in 100 days. Separately, the team is working on plans for a settlement in Western Ukraine for 5,545 inhabitants, another project in the city of Chernivtsi and master plans for seven pilots at the request of city and regional authorities.

[Image: Balbek Bureau]After building the pilot project, the company plans to refine the design and share it for use in other countries. “The big idea is to scale up the RE:Ukraine experience and go global,” Balbek says. “Our studio can develop these projects under the RE:Ukraine system in almost any country in line with local demand for temporary housing due to wars or natural disasters.”

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