3.1 Shelter design to enable access to Country

Centre for Appropriate Technology Discussion Structures 3.1 Shelter design to enable access to Country

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    Nathaniel Goode

      Just wondering what the main issues are with the dongas or pre-fabricated housing they currently have. What is the underlying issue? Are the joints rusting due to the rain or are they being hammered by dust etc. Another question would be how willing they are to spend money and what budget they might have for a design solution such as this. Any help is greatly appreciated!


      Grace Roberts

        Hi Nathaniel (and Osman)

        Thanks for your question here, and via email. I was about to post it on the discussion forum when I saw the question here too.

        Dongas are common across the cape because they’re widely available and relatively affordable, however the main issues are around the fact that they are not made for nor appropriate to suit the Cape York climate.

        So some key issues we’ve heard from our partner CfAT is around poor design that doesn’t utilise natural air flow and so dongas get very hot, so air conditioning (where available) often comes with a donga rather than fans and is used constantly and is very expensive and inefficient for cooling 1 small room when several other dongas on site might all have their own separate air conditioning unit running also. Also the use of individual bar fridges has similar issues. So, the use of energy efficient appliances is a big need and there’s a strong interest in building design that utilises natural cooling techniques (see our interactive on CfAT project examples to see how the Community Building does this). There are also then maintenance issues associated with such cooling systems when they are so remote if they require a qualified person to travel there. Rusting as you mentioned may also be an issue, particularly due to the higher levels of humidity and rain season as you mentioned.

        Our partner also said existing pre-fabricated units aren’t very compatible with more communal and intergenerational ways of living by First Nations people and shared caregiving – as it’s common to have larger families and grandparents living with families (as opposed to the largely-Western ‘nuclear’ family model). There is an interest in exploring how living and sleeping spaces could be increased beyond the standard donga size that fits on a truck, such as modular parts that can be assembled together on site. Some level of choice in sizing to be adjusted to the number of users would be favourable, but this can vary greatly across the year with the seasons.

        In terms of cooking, some people still prefer traditional methods of cooking on an open fire outside, but there is a gradual shift from open fire to gas cooking in remote areas as opposed to electric cooking as this puts a strain on the energy system. So, factoring this into your design somehow would be valuable.

        In terms of budget, take a look at our FAQs document linked at the top of the forum which will help guide you here – in short, you will need to determine what is a reasonable budget depending on who is paying for it (e.g. household level, local government, other providers or pro bono) and what value it is worth including in the long term. For how much money people would have and be willing to spend, at an individual/household level you can check out the 2016 Census to cross-check with the average income in Cape York, or look at what cost of projects that partners like CfAT or pro bono partners like Arup or Aurecon engage in.

        Hope that helps!

        Best of luck with your project,

        Fina Brown


          With regards to the environment and extreme weather, what are the problems that have aroused due to such extreme weather? are their any problems associated with the environment upon building the shelters? for example, waste management,? is there anything that you would recommend when building these structures that could have a more positive impact on the environment? Any help and insight would be much appreciated.


          Rachel Alford

            Hi Sosefina,

            Thank you for your questions, I’ve covered them below.

            The most common problems that have occurred as a result of extreme weather events in Cape York include cyclones and flooding, which can wash away the foundation of buildings and cause property damage. 

            In terms of your other questions regarding problems associated with the environment upon building the shelters, do you mean during the actual construction of the building (e.g. waste management when constructing the building), or are you referring to environmental impacts on a building after it has been constructed (e.g. weather making waste management a challenge when a building is in place)? 

            In the case of during the construction of a building, the negative environmental impacts associated with this will need to be explored by your team and minimised and mitigated as much as possible. For example, you might consider using locally available materials. 

            In terms of environmental impacts on building structures when they are in place, I recommend taking a look at our interactive walkthrough of a community building (found under Resources – Interactive: Explore CfAT project examples) which gives some great examples of environmentally appropriate design.

            Ultimately, your team should be exploring options to maximise positive environmental outcomes in your design proposal. In addition to the resources mentioned above, I’d also recommend taking a look at the page I’ve linked below, Design Considerations (found in Participant Resources) which outline some key considerations to keep in mind as you develop your proposal. 

            Design Considerations

            Please reach out if you have any further questions!


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