“The problem with a tent is that when you use it you throw it away, so it’s money that melts.”–Alejandro Aravena
The social project of architecture has long been fascinated with emergency and refugee housing as a primary unit of architectural and urban development. For decades, architects have proposed alternatives to the United Nations’ blue tent cities that are the principal image associated with humanitarian aid and its resulting urbanism. During the 2016 Venice Biennale Reporting from the Front, curator Alejandro Aravena challenges architects to reconsider the discipline’s relationship to society’s most urgent challenges. The ongoing European refugee crisis is one such ‘Front’ and this research examines the viability of an alternative to the polyvinylchloride (PVC) tarp as the default condition of emergency and refugee housing. The authors propose that waterproof paper surfaces and members, treated with a proprietary nano-coating can perform as well as traditional materials, but with reduced environmental impact and improved user comfort. A collaboration between researchers in Material Science and Architecture combines ongoing scientific research with digital design tools and methods. Following is a brief history of building with paper, an introduction to hydrophobic nano-coatings, and several fabricated prototypes. This project expands upon initial applications from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (2012) where researchers successfully prepared paper surfaces with a nanoparticle coating, repelling water and maintaining structural integrity.