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.

    We encourage all students to develop some ways of testing different materials to inform their choices of envelope design. Even a simple device like a cardboard Hot Box might be fun to use to experiment with individual materials and combinations of materials. See the attached Hot Box design but you can play with different configurations and sizes of test facilities. Make sure you include your thinking and testing regimes in the final two A1 sheets to help the judges understand why you made your design decisions. We hope the project will give you a good 'feel' for how materials perform and help you develop the habit of empirically exploring the world around you throughout your working life and the materials it is made of. We also attach a paper on how we experimented with materials for the Polar Lodge. To see some of the techniques we used to optimise the form of the Polar Lodge tent see the five papers on the project published in the Proceedings of the Comfort at the Extremes Conference - (CATE)


    Susan Roaf; Manuel Correia Guedes; Joao Pinelo Silva (2019). Extreme design: Lessons from Antarctica; Proceedings Conference Comfort at the Extremes, 10-11 April, Dubai.

    Joao Pinelo Silva; Motaz Mestarehi; Susan Roaf; Manuel Correia Guedes (2019). Siting considerations for a shelter in the extreme cold of Antarctica; Proceedings Conference Comfort at the Extremes Conference, 10-11 April, Dubai.

    Manuel Correia Guedes; Alexandre Duarte; Joao Pinelo Silva; Motaz Mestarehi; Gustavo Cantuária; Bruno Marques; Nuno Silvestre; Susan Roaf (2019). Structural Design of a Movable Modular Shelter for Extreme Wind Conditions: A Study in Collins Bay, Antarctica; Proceedings Conference of the Comfort at the Extremes Conference, 10-11 April, Dubai.

    Manuel Correia Guedes; Alexandre Duarte; Joao Pinelo Silva; Motaz Mestarehi; Gustavo Cantuária; Bruno Marques; Susan Roaf (2019). Thermal Performance of a Movable Modular Shelter for Extreme Cold Conditions: A Study in Collins Bay, Antarctica; Proceedings Conference Comfort at the Extremes Conference, 10-11 April, Dubai.

    Judging Process

    To be posted soon.

    Judging Panel

    Chris Twinn

    Twinn Sustainability Innovation

    Chris Twinn is a multidisciplined engineer and designer with a particular interest in how our built environment adapts for 2050. His background is in collaborative integrated building design and planning, using comfort environment, building physics and energy systems specialisms, along with advanced skills in passive design. Chris adds the premise that we should be using less resources - including financial - to deliver the amenity modern society needed for its future prosperity. Chris’ experience includes 28 years with Arup, as a director and Arup Fellow, and more recently 5 years with his own practice (http://TwinnSustainabilityInnovation.com/), working on innovative projects worldwide, from climate-ready city masterplans down to individual building design.

    Adrian Pitts

    University of Huddersfield

    Adrian Pitts is Professor of Sustainable Architecture at the University of Huddersfield where he leads the Sustainable Environments and Practice research group within CUDAS (the Centre for Urban Design, Architecture and Sustainability) in the Department of Architecture and 3D Design. He has taught environmental and energy efficient design, supervised numerous research projects and research students, and published widely over the last three decades in three different Universities. Cross-disciplinary initiatives have characterised his academic career and he has been involved with many teaching and research activities spanning the fields of: architecture, engineering, planning, environment and landscape, comfort, policy and urban development, recently concentrated largely in China.

    Andy Ford

    London South Bank University

    Andy Ford is Professor and Director of the Centre for Efficient and Renewable Energy in Buildings (CEREB) at London South Bank University. Graduating as a mechanical engineer he joined Max Fordham and Partners, and in 1983 established 'Fulcrum Consulting' which became famed for advanced integrated low energy building design and sustainable master planning, winning many awards and growing to 150 staff before becoming part of Mott MacDonald in 2008. He was Technical and Policy Chair, and is now a UK Green Building Council Ambassador and has worked as a research manager for the DTI. He was awarded the IMechE Built Environment Prize in 2008 and an honorary doctorate by Herriot Watt University in 2012

    Charlie Luxton

    Charlie Luxton Design

    Charlie Luxton is passionate about sustainability and architecture. He has spent the last 20 years designing sustainable buildings and making television programmes about architecture and design. This combination of doing and talking is what Charlie is all about and he is interested in creating architecture fit for the 21st century; designs that respond to local materials, traditions and climate. He is the principle of Charlie Luxton Design (http://charlieluxtondesign.com)), an architecture firm of eight that specialises in sustainable buildings and is working on a large variety of projects ranging in type and scale but always seeking to deliver architecture to the highest standard. Their Practice CLD always begin the design process with people and place; the client and the site. There is no set style to their work, it’s from here that their architecture grows.

    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.

    Fergus Nicol

    London Metropolitan University

    Fergus Nicol is Professor and Visiting Professor at University College London and Heriot Watt, London Metropolitan and Oxford Brookes Universities and widely known for his work on human thermal comfort, principally the ‘adaptive’ approachi. With Michael Humphreys and Susan Roaf he has co-authored Adaptive thermal comfort: principles and practice, (2012 Routledge) and Adaptive thermal comfort: foundation and analysis (2016), and other numerous publications including the comfort chapter in CIBSE Guide A and he is the principal author of CIBSE TM52. He convenes the Network for Comfort and Energy use in Buildings (www.nceub.org) and co-chairs the International Windsor Conferences on Comfort (www.windsorconference.com).

    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

    Maita Kessler

    Former Oxford Brookes Lecturer

    Maita Kessler qualified as architect and urban planner at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil, where she then worked in design of rational construction methodologies at the Centre for Building Innovation before continuing undertaking a year-long Ministry of Foreign Affairs scholarship on housing pre-fabrication in Paris. Returning to Brazil, she started a successful architectural practice in Porto Alegre, and later São Paulo. Then accompanying her husband, to the UK she did an MSc in Energy Efficient Building at Oxford Brookes University where she taught for twenty years, and since retirement consults in Sustainable Design

    Associate Professor Manuel Correia Guedes

    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.

    Mary Hancock

    Former Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University

    Mary Hancock has a long standing interest, experience and publications in reducing energy use in buildings using passive technologies. She taught environmental design at Oxford Brookes and was Chair of the Masters in Energy Efficient and Sustainable Building. Her research projects in Pakistan in primary schools, funded by DFID and the British Council, have provided good evidence of the effectiveness of careful thought at an early design stage in trying to moderate building temperatures to achieve comfort in both extreme summer and winter conditions. She has extensive experience in passive design and adaptive thermal comfort in the UK and Middle East.

    Oliver Heath

    Oliver Heath Design

    Oliver Heath is an Architectural and Interior Designer and his practice Oliver Heath Design (www.oliverheathdesign.com) are recognised global experts in Biophilic Design. His work is expressed in number of mediums including the design for built environment, writing and the media; having worked for a number of television channels including BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and the National Geographic channel. He has acted as a spokesperson for the likes of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Energy Saving Trust (EST) and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and is currently a Biophilic Design Ambassador for Interface. Oliver Heath Design are currently the lead designers in the BRE’s Biophilic Office 3-year research project.

    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.

    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.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Content to be added soon.