Hipster or homeless?

Hipster or homeless?

Hipster or homeless?

Co.Design

Almost Genius: Molo Creates Emergency Shelters From Pleated Paper

The Canadian company devises easy-to-assemble partitions that provide morale-boosting privacy to disaster victims.

Natural disaster victims forced to evacuate their homes find themselves housed en masse in large public buildings, stripped of their individuality and their privacy. Molo, a Canadian furniture and lighting company, has come up with a way to give the newly homeless rooms of their own, constructed from six-foot-high pleated paper partitions, which connect to form a space large enough to sleep four. Assembly takes about five minutes, and no tools are required.

The Softshelter system is an extension of Molo’s Softwall, a freestanding, accordian-like partition that expands and contracts to shape more intimate spaces within larger areas. Each unit comes with a lamp, a towel rod, and a bunch of binder clips and magnets. The recent devastation in Japan prompted the designers to reimagine the room dividers as temporary emergency quarters for disaster victims. The rooms can be erected quickly and offer a sense of comfort and ownership, which, Molo says, "could provide the impetus and energy for those affected to take the next steps to continue on after such devastation and trauma."

The problems, however, are many: Since the walls are made of kraft paper, they can't withstand the elements. Molo counters that in-door maintenance is easy: Collapsing the "softwall" expels any dust from the honeycomb structure. More egregious is the fact that one unit will retail for $1,000 — a price more in line with well-to-do consumers than government agencies looking for a quick, makeshift solution to a pressing housing problem. (And the fact that Molo can sell an entire shelter for $1,000 while selling chandeliers and room dividers for thousands makes us a little hesitant to ever buy any of their products. What are the margins here?!)

Regardless of the merits of the idea, Softshelter strikes us as an instance of flawed design. What good is a product if the people who need it most can't afford it?

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10 Comments

  • Manimal Cracker

    A molo wall of only one foot in height could be filled with cement, allowed to harden then tipped on it's side. Then another such hardened unit could be stacked on top of it. Rebar could be included as well. Also, sheer thickening fluid could be impregnated into the fabric of a molo wall to create a bulletproof or tornado proof shelter. Molo units, impregnated with sheer thickening fluid, could be sold to the military for them to fill with concrete on site, or they could be sold to people in tornado zones to make safe rooms and shelters.. Combine sheer thickening fluid impregnated molo, with rebar, with cement, and have the rebar anchored into the ground and one has a rather resistant and strong shelter.

  • Manimal Cracker

    Have you thought of making these out of kevlar or tyvek , to be filled with sand or cement, for an outdoor shelter? YOu could have holes to allow for horizontal rebars to be inserted once it is extended. For one story outdoor shelters they could also be filled with that expanding insulating foam. Perhaps the inner channels could be filled with insulating foam and the outer channels filled with sand or cement.

  • clearvisionenterprises

    I love them just by their design structure.  Similar to the soft door concept [internal door usage] the honey comb would give extra strength and rigidity.  Also possibly 'light' enough for the victums to give assistance themselves in the repositioning /set up of times when more family members are found  - rather than adding them in the other end of the building... somewhere.  Thank you MOLO.

  • Lauri

    I'm relatively new to your site and your Twitter feed but I adore seeing the creative things you're covering every day. However, I'm really glad the folks at Molo called you on this article. I thought it was surprisingly snippy and potentially disasterous to a small company. Research issues aside, new ideas are often expensive but if they open up a new thought process, a new idea for other entrepreneurs to explore then the power of the market can come to bear. In general, we do a terrible job of taking care of people in crisis and this is a creative step in the right direction. And it isn't those individuals who've lost their home who are going to buy these shelters, it's governments and NGOs. They do have the deep pockets required, at least judging from many of the silly things they don't hesitate to spend millions on.

  • Famousfirefighter

    I think the shelters a a great idea. One thing that came to my mind however was fire safty. If the shelters are ment to be used for longer periods, how safe/dangerous are they in the case of a fire? The paper looks pretty falmmable. 
    Complaining about  price is rather pointless without the information what comparable solutions cost. (And what does the  speculations on the margins of other Molo products have to do with anything?)  

  • molo

    Dear Belinda,Here is some further information. It's unfortunate you didn't allow us the opportunity to provide this information prior to your judgement of our work.- softshelter walls are for indoor use; they are intended to be used to create individual personal spaces within functional public buildings, not to protect people from the elements.- the $1000/unit price is from another article - you didn't get this information from us nor did you discuss the background behind it with us. In fact this pricing is a target price based on a particular type of configuration with multiple units (about 100 units) that allow for efficiencies in both manufacturing and the number of units used. For example a single unit of this size on it's own would require 4 regular softwalls (15' long each) but in creating configurations with many rooms, that have shared walls between them, 2.5 softwalls per room are used.- We are not trying to provide a "quick, makeshift solution". softshelter as a solution is addressing the fact that this may be home for up to a year and possibly longer - how does one judge the cost of this type of shelter solution? Additionally, we will price the shelter so that we can afford to make it without exploiting resources and labour.- softshelter provides significant comfort, privacy and dignity for the price. It can be easily deployed without tools or specialized construction labour and is adaptable to many situations and needs. Also, the shelters are designed so that they can be used repeatedly and stored in a very compact amount of space. Once they have reached the end of their lifespan, they can be easily be recycled. Are you able to provide information and pricing for comparable solutions?- Your comment about margins on our other products is uninformed and quite alarming to a small business that strives for honesty and quality. Whenever we can improve, simplify, or find economy we do so. In other words, we put money and time into design and development. Additionally, we don't exploit labour or resources. Material type, amount of material, time, and construction all affect cost. We have made adjustments for softshelter walls, for all three of these things, that have yielded pricing that is not comparable to our other products.We feel softshelter will provide a lot for the price and we are proud of this work.sincerely,Todd + Stephanie

  • molo

    We make the paper from a mix of new long fibers, for strength and
    recycled paper. Also, the shelters are designed so that they can be used
    repeatedly. And once they have reached the end of their lifespan, they
    can be easily be recycled!

  • Patrick Doyle

    These would be very useful for all those made homeless by the horrendous riots taking place in London and the rest of England at the moment.