Gigaprize Recipient Good Works Studios Improves Refugee Living Conditions Through Humanitarian Design

Scott and Sam had a personal conviction to use professional skills to make the world a better place.

“It’s not something relegated to volunteer hours but something we do on a daily basis,” Scott says.

Good Works Studio Emergency Floor

In 2013, two graduate students at the Rice University School of Architecture, Scott Key and Sam Brisendine, received grant funding to create a domestic relief shelter for refugees. They expected their journey in the refugee space to end at the product’s presentation; but the design received an unexpected and overwhelming response – not for the shelter, but for its floor.

Scott and Sam help install Emergency Floor in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

There are 65.3 million refugees in the world – a number the world has not seen since World War II. Most refugees live in shelters for twelve to seventeen years– and most of these shelters don’t have flooring. Many refugees spend sixteen to twenty hours a day on the ground. This reality burdens the refugee community because living directly on the dirt increases rates of disease, infection, parasites, and diarrhea.

So Scott and Sam launched Good Works Studio and its first product, Emergency Floor. Emergency Floor has modular snap tile design that can fit to the size and shape of any shelter. It removes refugees from the dirt, which protects them from disease, and it insulates them from frigid desert conditions when temperatures drop at night.

Product Reception

“A lot of the moms had really positive response,” Scott recalled.

Scott said, “Sam and I are both dads. We have young kids, and the idea is that moms especially don’t want their kids directly on the floor. Refugees aren’t accustomed to living like this. Their kids are getting a lot of infections as a result, and their parents often have no way to protect them from this exposure to disease.”

Scott and Sam flew to Lebanon for the first installation of the product to ensure it was feasible for families to complete the installations themselves. They were pleased to see that families installed their floors within a matter of hours and could fit the tiles of the floor to fill the space of whatever shelter they inhabited.

Good Works Studio’s Next Project: Power-Free Air Conditioning

Temperatures range from below freezing to sweltering conditions throughout the day.

“Provisions refugees get are pretty meager and unimaginative. There isn’t much innovation, so there’s a lot of opportunity for us,” Scott said.

The more time they spent in the field, the more need they saw for products that could impact the refugee experience. In their initial summer visits to Lebanon, the desert was “unbelievably hot during the day. You’d walk into a shelter and it’s even perceptibly hotter, because there’s no ventilation, so they’re essentially in little greenhouses.”

Venturi Effect: air channels through a funnel to create cooler temperatures.

So their next product is a power-free air conditioning solution. The product is a funnel that uses the Venturi effect. Good Works Studio is also creating solar powered fans and power-free cooling solutions that would bring more tolerable living conditions to the refugee community.

Product Design

Good Works Studio’s two main priorities in design are accessible cost and adaptability to a variety of environments. Scott and Sam want to make sure the product is affordable so that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs, a type of charitable organization), can purchase enough of the product for all the refugees in their reach.

“We want to design it so it costs the least it can, while still delivering the complete benefits,” Scott says.

They also know that shelters come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, so they want to design their products to work fully in any type of shelter, regardless of its setup.

Scott and Sam maximize their product’s efficiency with limited resources.

However, Good Works Studio, like many two-man startups, does not have much reserve capital to play with. The prototyping and iterating process is critical if they want to create the most functionally and financially efficient final product. But creating and re-creating a product is expensive. Click here to read about how Good Works Studio is using re:3D’s Gigabots to improve create their product.

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