Empirical studies have shown that internal temperatures in refugee shelters are impacting morbidity, and possibly mortality. Within a displacement setting, solutions are often constrained by time, cost, material availability and local requirements. This often results in “deemed suitable” designs rather than optimal solutions. In this study, we ask which route is most appropriate to optimise thermal comfort: prototyping design improvements, which requires time but may not require significant domain expertise, or thermal modelling, which can be quickly carried out if there is expertise. In a unique experiment, a laboratory of 12 shelters, built in a desert refugee camp, was adapted by the refugees themselves with variants to improve thermal comfort. Thermal modelling and field results were compared. Prototyping, though requiring additional time, was found to offer several advantages over modelling: (a) it gives a more visceral answer, in that the agency staff and refugees can experience the improvement - this could be important as most people might not be able to relate to a numeric statement about temperature; (b) the difficulty of constructing variants can be compared; (c) the financial and time costs are identified accurately. This suggests that such prototyping experiments have great utility, conferring substantial advantages over computer-based modelling. Significantly, we show that simple adaptations can improve conditions by up to 6 °C, and that the skills exist in camps to complete such improvements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-45
Number of pages18
JournalEnergy for Sustainable Development
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the EPSRC [grant number EP/P029175/1] and was conducted thanks to the collaboration of UNHCR Jordan and NRC Jordan. We particularly would like to thank Vincent Dupin (Snr. Technical Officer UNHCR Jordan) and Alaa Amoush (Site Planner & Shelter Associate UNHCR Jordan ?Azraq camp) from UNHCR and the NRC workshop (Azraq Camp) for facilitating the resources to build and conduct the experiment. We also thank Professor Omar Bani-Ahmad Otum from Princess Sumaya University of Technology for the logistical support provided.

All data created during this research is openly available from the University of Bath Research Data Archive at doi:10.15125/BATH-00768References.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • Desert
  • Overheating
  • Refugee shelters
  • Thermal comfort
  • Thermal mass
  • Thermal modelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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