Building in a Bag
Experimenting with concrete in school paved the way for British industrial designers Will Crawford and Peter Brewin to enter the business of helping disaster relief workers. The two entrepreneurs are the brains behind Concrete Canvas Technologies, a new company that is marketing inflatable concretetentstoaid organizations as well as the U.S. and U.K. military.
Crawford and Brewin met three years ago in an industrial design and engineering class at the Royal College of Art in London, where they were pursuingmaster’s degrees. Inspired by the sophistication of an egg, the two explored the use of inflation to create forms that were structurally sound yet lightweight by blowing up balloons filled with plaster. They decided to use inflation to create forms, and found concrete to be an easily compressible material. “There are two basic aspects to the design—cement-impregnated cloth and the use of inflation,” says Crawford.
To erect the tent, you add water to the bag and inflate it with air, and 12 hours later it is ready to use. The two students entered their idea in the British Cement Association’s annual competition in 2004 for new and innovative uses of concrete, and they won second prize.
During summer vacation, they traveled to Uganda to do field tests. They spent a month meeting U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations and visited six different refugee camps where they tested the idea. They were met with a positive response from aid agencies, who have long needed a way to quickly erect shelters on demand. After graduation in August 2005, Crawford and Brewin started the company with their prize money and secured their first round of financing from private investors in April 2006, as well as through a grant from the British government. With the idea that a free trial will lead to sales, the firm has handed out prototype tents to clients like the U.K. and U.S. military and the Red Cross.
With the durability of a portable building and the ease-of-use of a tent, the structures have an estimated life span of five to 10 years, which out-lives the normal wear of a tent, while remaining logistically easier and cheaper to manage than prefabricated portable buildings. While cost has yet to be determined—based on further prototype testing—Crawford says he and Brewin plan to take the product to the commercial marketplace, as shelters for sheds and agristorage, or to sell the concrete cloth in rolls to builders for instant hard pouring.