Daniel Hopkins

Document Type





Spring 5-2016


refugees, housing, mobile units, architecture, culture, history, shelter, fabrication, economic, environmental




Architectural History and Criticism | Architectural Technology | Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis | Environmental Design | Urban, Community and Regional Planning


Deployable homes have characterized the survivalist origins of our species, the lifestyles of disenfranchised populations, and the luxurious retreats of others. Still, a predominance of contemporary domestic space relies on the ‘permanently’ stationary and situated object. As the social and ecological conditions of our society are rapidly and continually fluctuating, we must reaffirm our association with deployable culture and expand the utilization of mobile and adaptable unit. Further, architecture must negotiate the contrasts between ephemerality and permanence.

Through speculation of the social and sustainable implications of the deployable unit, issues of flexibility, material selection and afterlife, economics, ecology, and efficiency must all be critically considered. While music festivals, circuses, army basecamps, and other groups have exhibited potentials in the temporary building, few have standardized and optimized the type and process. Traditional Mongolian Yurts (gers) over time developed one of the most efficient and influential deployable units. Taking cultural values from the yurt type and others, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Deployment Unit later expanded those potentials to regularize fabrication and respond to social demand.

Despite the potential necessity for wide-spread application, this thesis aims to deploy the mobile unit specifically refugee dwelling units to improve current conditions. These particular issues raise necessary concerns of domesticity, democracy, and human values. Ultimately, these factors will guide the unit design which aims to provide a mobile architecture that conveys humane qualities equal to, or greater than, any stationary architecture.

Traditionally the deployable unit has taken many forms of distribution and fabrication. Membranes, pneumatics, tensegrity structures, and capsules have characterized this range. However, this thesis will advance the capabilities of flat packed systems for their portability, transformability, and potentials for disassembly. Consequently, the resulting unit will allow a reconstitution of material after the life of the unit has been exceeded.

Initial research will display a range of impactful mobile units with a particular focus on extracting materiality and fabrication methods. Adding to this will be a clarification of what elements constitute human domestic space. Following this catalogue, construction and deployment of the resulting unit will exemplify the culmination of this work. In this way, this thesis seeks to align with the contentions of Peter Zumthor in Thinking Architecture, as he suggests that: “Architecture is always concrete matter. Architecture is not abstract, but concrete. A plan, a project drawn on paper is not architecture but merely a more or less inadequate representation of architecture, comparable to sheet music. Music needs to be performed. Architecture needs to be executed.”


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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.