Extreme Desert Lodge

International Student Design Competition

  • Do you like architecture, engineering or science?
  • Would you like to play at the edges of knowledge?
  • Do you like to tinker?
  • Do you like to understand how things work?
  • Would you like to experiment with materials?
  • Want to do meaningful work and push boundaries?
  • Registration opens soon in October 2019!

    Important Dates

    Registration Opens

    01 October 2019 at 00:00:00 GMT, online

    Submission Deadline

    01 April 2020 at 23:59:59 GMT, online


    2 March to 14 April 2020


    15 April 2020 in the UK

    Winners Announced

    16 April 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT, online


    1 st Prize
    £ 1,000

    2 nd Prize
    £ 750

    3 rd Prize
    £ 500


    Anyone registered for an undergraduate or Masters degree for the academic year 2019-2020 or anyone under 25 years old.

    It will be presumed that all entrants comply with the eligibility criteria but only checked for the members of the 15 finalist teams.


    Our climate is heating and weather records are being broken almost weekly. Yet, rather than reducing emissions, in 2018 global CO2 rose to a historic high of 33.1 Gt CO2 and temperatures are predicted to soar ever higher .

    We are in the midst of a climate emergency, species across the world are already becoming extinct. Yet, little appears to change in the construction industry with its business as usual regulations, building types and design tools.

    We now want to change the conversation for designers to help them create buildings that play a large role in climate solutions, rather than being part of the Global Heating problem and climate crisis.

    We hope this project will help change that conversation.


    The EXTREME LODGE project is sponsoring an international student competition to design a temporary shelter for climate researchers in the very hot desert climates of the Gulf.

    The competition will provide

    1. A New Design Process for developing and testing extreme structures;

    2. A deeper understanding of the Performance of Materials at high temperatures;

    3. A working knowledge of the Climatic Design drivers associated with form;

    4. Insight into Passive and Active Cooling opportunities at high temperatures;

    5. Experience in Laboratory, Bench and Field testing of structures and ideas;

    The Idea

    The idea for this competition came from building an extreme Polar Lodge for climate change researchers in Antarctica. This experience taught us the need to radically change how we think about designing structures at the extremes. Building models barely work for extreme conditions, empirical research does, providing informed solutions to design challenges that exist beyond the limits of our own understanding, and even imagination. The ‘Learning by Doing’ method works best, especially when done in conjunction with experts from industry who know how materials do and don’t work in reality at the extremes.

    Who is the tent for?

    Imagine the occupants of this tent. They are two researchers working on extreme desert species that occur in only one or two very hot sites. To study them they have to spend periods in the field to set up their experiments, monitor them and record the species in their natural habitat. They need an extreme tent to keep them thermally safe during the day and night in their field work, with ambient temperatures during the day of up to 45 o C. Above that all researchers are recalled from the field.

    Where is the tent?

    At the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) researchers have been doing groundbreaking research since 1999 when 70 Arabian Oryx were introduced, and 6000 indigenous trees and shrubs were planted at its establishment. Today, many studies are undertaken using cameras and drones but one species which is being looked at in depth is that of small rodents in the very different habitats of sand dunes and gravel plains. The two researchers will have to spend up to two weeks at a time in the tent while they do in depth surveys of them in the field. Students should choose a site in any part of the reserve, and in all places the ground will be suitable for bashing guy pegs into to secure the tent.

    What is the climate like?

    Dubai has a hot desert climate with two distinct seasons, Summer and Winter. There is an excellent overview of the climate on Wikipedia. It shows that temperatures do towards 50 o C and, in a Heating World, records are being continually broken. As for the researchers, they will be recalled from field work when local temperatures rise over 45 o C so that is the maximum design temperatures for the competition. With the upper levels of acceptable temperatures for the adapted tent occupants being 35 o C (with a good breeze) then the tent cloth must be capable of reducing the Delta Temperature (ΔT) from out to in by at least 10 o C. Perhaps this is possible passively but there is also the option to use zero carbon active cooling, as long as it is achieved within the other rules of the competition.

    The only one we have!

    Taking action through education

    The Polar Lodge that we Built in 2019

    Design the desert lodge for dubai!

    A lodge for researchers.

    Very hard work on the extremely hot desert.

    Crusty dry soil.



    1 - Function and Comfort

    1.1. Sleeps two people;

    1.2. Floor area no more than 16m 2 but no other dimensions are fixed;

    1.3. People are able to walk about in it and also work in it at some times of the day;

    1.4. Use envelope materials that perform exceptionally well in high temperatures;

    1.5. Is capable of providing acceptable indoor conditions in ambient air temperatures of up to 45 o C in Dubai. During extreme heat events, researchers will be withdrawn from the field;

    1.6. Indoor temperatures from between 10 o to 35 o C are considered acceptable for acclimatized field researchers, so the tent will work fine if it can raise of lower temperatures to within this zone. See tab Hot Box to learn how you can measure this.

    2 - Environmental Impact

    2.1. Have net zero carbon emissions from passive and active systems for cooling. Solar works well;

    2.2 Low impact – leaving nothing behind to pollute the site once dismantled;

    2.3 The materials of the tent and its floor should be reusable, following circular economy thinking; CE normatives.

    3 - Transport and Erection Process

    3.1 Have a structure that is easy to erect and dismantle;

    3.2 Takes no more than four hours to assemble and fix in place;

    3.3 The tent must be capable of being carried in the back of a jeep;

    3.4 The tent must be capable of being assemble by two non-experts in tents, without special tools.


    Registration Process

    Individuals or teams of up to 5 members.

    More details to be announced soon.

    Submission Process


    Only digital media is submitted.

    The submission consists of one PDF file with two posters on format A1 portrait. The two posters may be placed side-by-side once printed by the organisation committee for assessment and jury review.


    The submission shall be made via uploading one PDF file (with the two A1 posters) via Dropbox (free).

    Further details, such as the link to the upload folder, will be anounced before the submission date.


    As indicated above, on tab Important Dates

    Assessment Criteria

    This competition will not be judged on modelling (which is optional) or graphic design skills, but on the quality of the thinking and the empirical results that emerge from it. Students are asked to include the following steps in their design process.

    The Extreme Design Process

    1. Study the Site and its environs in great depth – demonstrate thinking on site positioning;

    2. Source and study local vernacular archetypes for inspiration – tents and temporary structures;

    3. Choose a palette of materials and test them in a lab or materials hot box (see more information below) to see which work best individually or in combination;

    4. Explore structure and skin material solutions with advice from product experts;

    5. Build a test tent structure at any scale and field test it in an appropriate time + local test location;

    6. Finalise structural and envelope design and compose two A1 sheets to demonstrate thinking;

    7. Submit final competition design by the date mentioned on the above tab: Importatnt Dates.

    All the materials and details will be critical

    A huge amount of thought will need to given to not only the materials but also the way they fit together and into the ground (see figures below).

    Hot Box Mini Lab

    Standardised Material Testing Procedure

    We developed a simple and very low cost method for all the participants to take measurements in a standardised manner. Please download the PDF file below with the standardised material testing procedure.

    Judging Process

    Judging Panel

    A dream panel of international experts

    Associate Professor Manuel Correia Guedes Panel Chair

    University of Lisbon, Instituto Superior Técnico

    Manuel Correia Guedes Architect, M.Phil., Ph.D. (Univ. Cambridge) is an Associated Professor (with Habilitation) at the Higher Technical Institute (IST) of the University of Lisbon. Former Director of the Architectural Research Centre of the IST, and of the Course of Architecture.

    Professor Andy Ford

    London South Bank University

    CEng, Fellow and Past President of CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) As President, Andy lead CIBSE 2011 -2012 with four calls to the Industry to respond to the extraordinary challenge faced by society to decarbonise our cities and deal with the challenge of climate change.

    Emeritus Professor Susan Roaf

    Heriot Watt University

    Susan is an Emeritus Professor of Architectural Engineering, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, is an award winning author, teacher, architect and energy pioneer. Her research has covered windcatchers and nomadic architecture in the Near East, Mesopotamian archaeology, solar, low carbon, resilient and sustainable design, thermal comfort.

    Paola Sassi

    Oxford Brookes University

    Dr. Paola Sassi teaches and undertakes research at Oxford Brookes University and the Oxford Institute of Sustainable Development. Previously she taught at the University of Nottingham, Cardiff University and the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales. She has more than 30 years of architectural practice experience and as partner of Sassi Chamberlain Architects.

    Evangelia Topriska

    Heriot Watt University

    Dr Evangelia Topriska is Assistant Professor of Building Services Engineering at Heriot Watt University, Dubai Campus. Her research covers Nearly Zero Energy Buildings, renewable hydrogen applications for distributed power generation for the built environment, Urban Heat Island and thermal comfort, Thermo-Electric Generators applications in buildings, weather data analysis and their effect on building energy simulations, distributed solar energy and grid integration.

    Joao Pinelo Silva

    University of Bahrain

    Dr Joao is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Bahrain. His research focuses on spatial cognition, urban planning, sustainable buildings and sustainability strategies for hot climates. Joao performed the first study on the passive shading effect of roof photovoltaic panels in the Arabian Gulf. He follows an evidence-based approach. His research has led him to develop software tools to assist with collecting, collating and analysing data within spatial frameworks to facilitate and standardise the gathering of data in a way that increases the base of evidence and make designing more efficient and effective

    Charlie Luxton

    Charlie Luxton Design

    Charlie regularly gives talks and presentations to a wide range of audiences about all aspects of the built environment and sustainability. Whether talking about airport terminals or termites he is always passionate, accessible and informative.

    To be confirmed

  • Peter Holzer
  • Maita Kessler
  • Mary Hancock

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