Aidex Voices

Good Works Studio is a Texas-based social enterprise dedicated to creating better, safer and more affordable shelter for refugees and displaced peoples worldwide.

Every year, millions of people are displaced from their homes and forced into emergency accommodation in refugee camps because of war, conflict or natural disasters.

Shelter in these camps is often inadequate, and without proper protection, refugees are extremely vulnerable to infections, waterborne diseases and hypothermia. These conditions result in hundreds of preventable deaths.

In light of this, Scott Austin-Key and Sam Brisendine, co-founders of the Good Works Studio, have immersed themselves in the challenging task of providing a simple, cost-effective solution to the urgent need for better shelter. 

Scott and Sam met as Masters students at the Rice University School of Architecture in Houston, Texas. Driven by their belief in the power of intelligent, innovative design and their strong sense of responsibility for creating a better world, the pair developed their prototype shelter, started as a humble student project, and turned into a sustainable, affordable modular flooring system for shelters, which will greatly alleviate the suffering of countless refugees worldwide. 

In 2015, USAID selected Good Works Studio as a recipient of their DIV grant and the team successfully raised USD$53,000 through IndieGoGo to cost share the grant.

The utilisation of floors in shelters reduces parasitic infections by about 78%, instances of diarrhoea by about 49%, anaemia by about 81%, as well as boost cognitive development in children by 36-96%. That is not to mention the increased levels of dignity and happiness. If flooding is a concern, the product is designed to be installed over top shipping pallets or sandbags to give families an extra 15-20 cm of distance from the ground.

Many relief agencies are unable to afford the high costs associated with other forms of shelter flooring. Emergency Floor, however, has been developed to cost less than $2 per square foot, putting it well within the budget of most agencies. The clean, sanitary floors can be interlocked to fit any kind of shelter, and the flooring is extremely easy to fit and replace, further lowering costs by eliminating the need for professional installation. The flooring is also a very effective insulator – based on tests in a UNHCR family shelter, the use of Emergency Floor can reduce the use of heating fuels by up to 20%.

Having successfully tested the Emergency Floor in partnership with Better Shelter in Sweden, co-founders Key and Brisendine are now piloting their floors with the UNHCR in Lebanon, where the floors aid families fleeing ISIS. 

With more and more refugees remaining in camps for longer periods of time due to housing shortages and border restrictions, the need for safe and hygienic shelter is becoming more pressing each day. Good Works Studio endeavours to meet this need, potentially saving millions of lives in the process.