Turning Wartime T-Walls into Iraqi Affordable Housing

t-wall courtyard image

Natural wind tower in housing project in Basrah, Iraq. Rendering by New World Design.

At a Pecha Kucha session during this summer's Dwell on Design conference, I was inspired by a series of seven 7-minute presentations proposed on the theme of "Regeneration." Dwell magazine editors partnered with Architecture for Humanity to elicit designers' ideas offering "actionable rays of hope." Several clever and worthwhile projects were described from portable homeless shelters to tool sharing to duct tape shoes. An innovative stand-out was New World Design's housing project in Basrah, Iraq, created from recycling the U.S. military's concrete T-Walls.

iraq homes image

New World Design's rendering of repurposed T-Wall housing.

Jeffrey Olinger, an architectural designer and principal with NWD of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his partner Heather Boesch, who work on sustainable redevelopment of Iraq and other conflict zones, hatched a plan to re-purpose the precast concrete panels used for barricades to cordon off the Green Zone and other military outposts.

Hundreds of thousands of T-walls--the ubiquitous symbol of war-torn Iraq--are scattered across the country as the bases close and will be crushed or dumped in desert graveyards. Instead of wasting materials, the T-walls are being reused to resolve the shortage of housing in post-war Iraq for more than two million displaced Iraqis without homes.

t-wall housing image

By arranging the T-walls in L-shaped configurations, a forecourt to share with neighbors and a private interior courtyard for extended families attempt to reflect Middle Eastern traditional dwellings. With steel reinforcements, these slabs are a strong architectural structural element that New World Design can turn into rapidly assembled, high-quality, low-cost housing.

To minimize the costs of heating and cooling, the thermal properties of T-walls (a potential R-value of 14) is maximized, and incorporating a wind tower creates natural ventilation. Recycling T-walls can helps rebuild the conflict zone with a cost-effective solution to a post-war Iraq even without agreeing on the politics.

Other ideas at Dwell's Pecha Kucha presentations:


The Gamechanger Bucket, an initiative from Global Design at Nike Football, provides clean water as well as a soccer ball to the favelas in Brazil and other communities around the world. A donation of $10 to GlobalGiving gives access to clean water plus sports for 13 people for more than 5 years - helping to stop the spread of cholera in Haiti.

Tina Hovsepian, founder of Cardborigami, designs sustainable, LEED-rated homes for Duvivier Architects. Though not addressing the bigger problem of homelessness, her award-winning prototype for a portable temporary shelter cleverly made of folded cardboard is available for a donation of $20.

Need to borrow a lawn mower or power tool? Micki Krimmel, showcased her NeighborGoods, an online community she founded that shares goods and skills with neighbors. She also authored Worldchanging: A User's Guide to the 21st Century.

The Mossy Foot Project is a program solution to combat podoconiosis, a disease known as Elephantiasis that afflicts over a million people in Ethiopia, that is spearheaded by Gavin Studer, a young California architect with a 30/70 firm (30% spent on designs for Humanitarian Relief ), that offers a cure through a simple bleach treatment.


Turning dryer lint into sleeping bags, pizza boxes into solar kits for sterilizing surgery tools and the instant Duct Tape Shoe are great ideas from the Design for Survival Workshops conducted by Texas A&M; Associate Professor Peter Lang who asks students to rethink everyday objects for re-use with the purposes of survival. The book on the exhibit will be published by ACTAR in December of 2011.

More on erecting walls:
Living Walls go Mainstream, Hit the Homes Sections
What is the Best Way To Build A Wall? Not A Simple Answer
DIY Trombe Wall Made From River Rock and Wire

Turning Wartime T-Walls into Iraqi Affordable Housing
At a Pecha Kucha session during this summer's Dwell on Design conference, I was inspired by a series of seven 7-minute presentations proposed on the theme of

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