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Leonardo da Vinci, the original ‘Renaissance man’, tends to be better known for his drawings of human anatomy and the animal kingdom than buildings. But his architectural designs were no less pioneering in their fusing of imagination and practical ingenuity. Now, almost 500 years after Leonardo’s death, a ‘reciprocal’ floor design — a self-supporting arrangement involving three or more poles overlapping in turn — could transform shelters for people affected by disasters.
In this audio interview, we speak to Shaun Halbert, director of charity ReciproBoo about the use of Leonardo’s reciprocal frames in humanitarian response. “Essentially what we’re doing is taking what Leonardo da Vinci did … and asking the question: ‘Well, if it’s strong enough for a floor, why not use it for a roof?’” Halbert says. The result is a strong roof that can support the tarpaulins that people displaced by emergencies are given in the days immediately following disasters — replacing the weak structures people have tended to fashion in the past from whatever materials are to hand.
The frames are made from either steel or, where possible, locally sourced bamboo, a sustainable wood that grows in the tropical belt where many natural disasters strike. When lashed together, the tensile strength of the bamboo and the engineering ingenuity of the design create a structure that is far more durable and weather resilient than those erected by refugees themselves. And, as well as shelters, the structures can be easily extended to create schools and clinics — resources in high demand but short supply during emergencies.
The ReciproBoo shelter won an award at the 2015 Aid Innovation Challenge.