Shelter Design Catalogue

from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 31 Jan 2016 View Original



UNHCR, the United Nations refugee organization, is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the world-wide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems.

UNHCR operates in an increasingly complex and challenging environment. Conflict, violence and persecution continue to cause large-scale displacement in many parts of the world. Providing international protection includes a range of concrete activities such as providing adequate shelter and settlement with the goal of increasing respect for, and ensuring the rights of UNHCR’s persons of concern.

Providing shelter is one of UNHCR’s institutional priorities. It is a fundamental human right recognized under Article 11 of the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.

The right to shelter was further acknowledged in 1981 when UNHCR’s Executive Committee produced a set of internationally recognized basic standards of treatment applicable in refugee emergencies. Amongst many other standards, it clearly states that “refugees and asylum seekers should receive all necessary assistance and be provided with the basic necessities of life including food, shelter and basic sanitary and health facilities.” Shelter is a critical factor affecting survival in the initial stages of a disaster. Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security, personal safety and protection from the climate and to promote resistance to ill health and disease. It is also important for human dignity, to sustain family and community life and to enable affected populations to recover from the impact of disaster.

A shelter is defined as a habitable covered living space providing a secure and healthy living environment with privacy and dignity. Refugees and others of concern to UNHCR have the right to adequate shelter in order to benefit from protection from the elements, space to live and store belongings as well as privacy, comfort and emotional support.

Shelter should be adapted according to the geographical context, the climate, the cultural practice and habits, the local availability of skills as well as accessibility to adequate construction materials in any given country.


The purpose of this catalogue is to present applied examples of shelter designs in a harmonised way to allow quick reference, comparative analysis and contextual assessment. By recording and presenting a diverse range of shelter design and development practice in a single document, shelter practitioners and other stakeholders may more easily access information on shelter types to inform their work.

The shelter examples presented are by no means exhaustive with respect to the range of shelter activities and practices in the field. Future revision will allow for the further inclusion of new designs and this catalogue should be considered as a ‘live’ resource.

The structure of the catalogue is built up of the following four sections:

  • Global Shelter Designs
  • Emergency Shelter Designs
  • Transitional Shelter Designs
  • Durable Shelter Designs


This shelter designs document is designed for use by all UNHCR staff and partners working in the shelter sector. The information may be particularly relevant to practitioners who are supporting the development of shelter assistance programmes with consideration to shelter type and operational context.