The global need for temporary housing, particularly in urban environments, is expected to increase. This is caused by diverse factors, e.g. migration or mobility due to educational or job opportunities and personal choices in striving for flexible and mobile lifestyles, but also an increase in extreme environmental events, resulting in large numbers of displaced people and climate refugees. The climate crisis is one of the major challenges of our time. The role of cities is recognized in SGD 11 which aims for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable human settlements (United Nations, n.d.). The building sector is associated with substantial energy and resource consumption and the release of emissions (Cabeza et al., 2014). A transition towards sustainability therefore is indicated for buildings, and thus - being a part of this sector – also for temporary housing.

Sustainability considerations are not yet commonplace in temporary housing though (Perrucci et al., 2016). Often, a linear design approach is prevalent: Repeatedly, the design and construction phase of temporary housing facilities is rushed and followed by a very short operation phase of only months or a few years. Once the end-of-life phase of temporary housing facilities is reached, they are being demolished and end up as construction waste. Bearing in mind that the building sector is a major contributor to the release of emissions, energy and resource consumption, this linear design approach does not comply with sustainability considerations (Johnson, 2007).

Whereas, circular design considerations aiming for reuse and design for disassembly are potential approaches towards increased sustainability in the temporary housing sector. Waste originating from construction and demolition waste was identified as one of the key topics in the Circular Economy Package, as it represents one of the highest volumes of waste type in Europe (European Commission, 2015). Circularity by design is therefore investigated in detail regarding its suitability as an alternative approach to urban temporary housing. Circularity aspects aim to preserve the function and value of products, components and materials at the highest possible level in order to extend the lifespan of products and reduce their environmental impact (European Environment Agency 2017). Planning for various sequential use cycles all along implies focusing on design, material, resource usage, and storage considerations. Moreover, another approach for reduced resource consumption is making best use of what already exists, for example by re-appropriating vacant buildings for temporary housing instead of constructing new temporary housing facilities. Design choices determine key factors such as longevity, reparability, recyclability, the proportion of renewable and recycling materials and suitability for refurbishment or remanufacturing or adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Considering the needs and requirements of different users is another focus for the development of sustainable temporary housing models. Therefore, temporary housing concepts should enable changes in its configuration to either refit it to the changed needs of the user, or to the different needs of the subsequent user. However, according to the European Environment Agency (2017), product circularity improvements do not automatically lead to increased environmental performance. Thus, environmental life cycle assessment will be part of the evaluation framework to investigate and uncover challenges, opportunities and trade-offs regarding sustainable urban temporary housing in more detail, as well as to identify sources of the most significant environmental impacts.

The research objective of this PhD project is to investigate how sustainability can be achieved in temporary housing facilities and in how this can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. The main scientific challenge is to demonstrate that temporary housing solutions can be developed in a sustainable way. A strong emphasis will be given towards environmental aspects of sustainability by focusing on resource and waste management.

This PhD project is part of the WWTF-funded research project “Urban pop-up housing environments and their potential as local innovation systems”. For further information please visit the project website ( 

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