SAHARA Highlights: Temporary Architecture

by Jacqueline Spafford and Mark Hinchman, SAHARA Co-Editors | Sep 14, 2021

While generally built to fulfill a short-term need, such as worker housing, some temporary structures serve their purpose much longer than intended, such as shelter for victims of natural disasters or wars. This selection of SAHARA contributions includes government and military buildings, museum and festival construction, as well as housing in many forms. Because temporary architecture by definition is transient, often the only record we have of these once important structures are photographs. Several of the projects in this month's Highlights only exist as photographs, making the repositories of those photographs, such as SAHARA, even more valuable. As always, thank you to our contributors.

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portable fort
Portable fort, Heerenlogement, Western Cape, South Africa, ca. 1900. This prefabricated corrugated iron structure was used in the Anglo-Boer War, and could be quickly assembled and dissembled. Photograph by Dell Upton, 1997.


Shigeru Ban
Shigeru Ban, Nomadic Museum, Tokyo, Japan, 2006. The museum was constructed of shipping containers and paper tubes to serve as a sustainable traveling gallery to house artist Gregory Colbert’s installation “Ashes and Snow.” It was first installed in New York in 2005, and was later rebuilt in Los Angeles and Tokyo. Photograph by Lisa Hsieh, 2006.


Structures for the festival of Santa Domenica
Structures for the festival of Santa Domenica, Scorrano, Lecce, Italy, 2011. Photograph by Peter Sealy, 2011.


Temporary worker housing
Temporary worker housing, Hangzhou, China, 2006. Worker housing such as this is a common site at construction sites in China. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2006.


geodesic dome
Geodesic dome, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 1953. Another kind of temporary worker housing, the dome was built by students at the University of Minnesota to house workers for the construction of the Nautilus Motor Inn Dome Restaurant. Photograph by Tunney F. Lee, 1953.


Scaffolding for restoration work on Humayun’s Tomb
Scaffolding for restoration work on Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi, India, 1563–71. Designed by architects Mirak Mirza Ghiyath and his son Sayid Muhammad, the garden tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photograph by Susan N. Johnson-Roehr, 2009.


Quonset hut
Quonset hut at the Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel, Victoria, Australia, 1949–59. The complex opened in 1950 as part of the Commonwealth government’s push to increase Australia’s population, and closed in the late 1980s. Photograph by Renee Miller-Yeaman, 2015.


Bedouin tent
Bedouin tent, near Damascus, Syria, ca. 2000. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2010.


Reconstruction of Charles Hamilton’s Turkish Tent
Reconstruction of Charles Hamilton’s Turkish Tent, Painshill Park, Surrey, England, originally erected ca. 1760. Photograph by Richard Wilson.


Adolphus Greely, Earthquake Shacks
Adolphus Greely, Earthquake Shacks, San Francisco, California, 1906. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, refugee camps were set up, eventually replaced by 5,300 temporary houses built by the city. Residents paid $2/month toward a $50 cost; once paid-for, the owner was required to move the house. This house is comprised of three earthquake shacks. Photograph by Dell Upton, 1984.

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
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