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?

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.