About Smart Shelter Foundation

“Promote and improve natural building techniques, collaborate and share knowledge, everyone deserves a safe home”

What we do

Today, more than a billion people in this world live in utter poverty. Most of them live in developing countries, in unsafe homes and in harrowing conditions.

Existing regulations and manuals for safe buildings with natural materials are insufficient and inadequate. To us this is unacceptable!

Smart Shelter Foundation collaborates with experts from around the world to research and develop unique methods to test, improve, and add to existing knowledge of non-engineered building techniques.

We work closely with universities and students and launched a wide range of challenging research assignments for Architecture, Engineering, and Product Design. For more information SmartShelterResearch.

SSF has built many safe, sustainable structures in developing countries and shares and promotes this knowledge with local communities.

All our projects and research have in common that we promote techniques and materials that are natural and locally sourced, such as earth, stone and wood.

We add safe building principles, such as cyclone and earthquake resistant construction, and train local builders on site.

We strive to recycle and reuse materials, and we integrate solutions to make the best use of daylight, shading and natural ventilation.

To reduce pollution and costs, we shorten transport distances by sourcing materials locally, and we minimise the use of materials with a high carbon footprint, such as concrete and steel.

SSF is a non-profit organisation. Our philosophy contributes to environmental and sustainability goals. Our solutions are applicable in developing countries as well as in modern architecture and engineering. We actively work to improve existing technical information and make it accessible and understandable for all.


Goals and Aims

“Solutions must be simple and easy to replicate in order to create a positive
snowball effect and lasting change”

Reduce loss of life and financial losses in disaster-prone areas, and to support eco-friendly solutions that help address the environmental crisis.

Promote and expand the use of natural materials and traditional techniques for earthquake-resistant buildings. This applies to both non-engineered construction and modern architecture worldwide.

Research and develop test methods that will drastically improve these techniques. Translate and simplify this academic knowledge so that it can be understood by local construction workers and engineers in developing countries.

Communicate and disseminate validated knowledge.
It must be free of cost and accessible to everyone.

  • Knowledge must be reliable
  • Knowledge must be available
  • Knowledge must be understandable


How We Work

SSF construction projects in developing countries

After 10 years of grassroots and field experience, we know how to make a project a success. We follow a few very important rules of thumb. If any of these important factors are missing, we will not undertake the project.

  • The initiative for a project comes from the beneficiaries, not from SSF. They know what is needed in their village or region.
  • We expect the full participation and cooperation of the beneficiaries. They will be involved from the beginning until the full completion of the project. We expect a certain percentage of own contribution, “People´s Participation”, usually about 25% of the total budget. This contribution consists mainly of the provision of local materials such as wood and recycled stones, as well as the donation of time and labour by the villagers.
  • SSF is responsible for the rest of the financing and all technical aspects of the project. Drawings and calculations are made based on local parameters and actual prices and wages. Usually our budgets are 20-30% below local tenders, so that our projects are affordable for people.
  • We work with local partners who are responsible for all communication and administrative matters during the execution of the projects. They speak the local language and are familiar with the local needs, culture, and customs.
  • We do not compromise on safety and quality. Throughout the construction process, we provide extensive training to local masons and carpenters. This is important to ensure the quality of the work and to create safe and durable buildings.

SSF research projects on a global scale

In carrying out our construction projects, we’ve found that existing building codes and field manuals are often outdated, contradictory, and incomplete. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be drastically improved. Therefore, we’re currently focusing on conducting high-tech research to address some of the most pressing issues.

  • Our main focus is on improving the seismic safety of so-called “non-engineered” buildings in developing countries. Non-engineered refers to buildings that are built spontaneously and informally, often in the traditional way, without the intervention of qualified architects and engineers.
  • With our global team of experts, we’re evaluating, validating, adding to, and improving several case study buildings using the latest techniques for calculating, modelling and testing techniques. The name of this project is SMARTnet.
  • Once we’re satisfied with the overall performance of the techniques, we’ll develop simplified field manuals that can be understood by local designers, engineers and workers.
  • We’re inviting experts, professionals, academics and final-year students from all relevant fields to share their knowledge and support the project with their time and expertise. To this end, we’ve launched an international Call to Action.


Our Team


Martijn Schildkamp – Founder and Director

Martijn is an architect and building engineer from the Netherlands with a passion for alternative materials and experimental building.

During his travels through Asia he was shocked by the harsh conditions in which so many people have to live. He started to dedicate his expertise and time to people across the globe, who are in need of better housing and improved living conditions. Since 2005 he founded three Smart Shelter divisions and researched, designed and built numerous projects in Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Indonesia.

Martijn specializes in construction techniques using natural and alternative materials and has developed a keen interest in low-tech earthquake-resistant principles. His activities are multidisciplinary, as he is simultaneously an architect, engineer, estimator, professor, trainer, supervisor, and mason, all at the same time. Over the years, he gained a lot of grassroots experience and practical knowledge that he now passes on to students and professionals around the world.

Since 2021, Martijn holds a Ph.D. on the subject: Global seismic assessment of rubble stone buildings.


Tessa van Weelie – Coordinator

Tessa joined Smart Shelter in 2007 and has since worked on all projects in Smart Shelter’s various departments. With a strong background in coordination and planning, she supports the overall organisation and is very good at actually getting things done. She’s a good communicator with endless enthusiasm.

Smart Shelter Foundation Core Team

Our enthusiastic core team consists of the following persons:

Chairman: Martijn Schildkamp Architect
Secretary: Dennis Hofman Architect
Treasurer: Noël Voskuilen Financial Manager
Reference Group: Erwin de Maar Architect
Frank Schildkamp Educational Specialist
Tessa van Weelie Coordination


Smart Shelter Concepts

In 2005 the Smart Shelter Concept was started. It now holds three divisions, which all focus on finding durable and alternative construction solutions for the developing and post-disaster context, as well as for modern architectural applications.

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Since 2005, SSF has successfully designed and built a large number of houses and schools in Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Indonesia, as well as a day care centre, a regional animal and agricultural centre and a multi-storey hostel for 20 blind students. All projects in Nepal are built earthquake resistant and survived the 2015 earthquakes without major damage.

Smart Shelter Foundation shares and promotes this knowledge with local communities. Together with experts around the world, we research and develop unique methods to test and improve the knowledge about non-engineered building techniques.

logo SSResearch

Smart Shelter Research developed a wide range of challenging research
assignments for universities and students to develop methods to improve safe building techniques with natural materials and disaster-proof reinforcements.
The assignments are for Architecture, Engineering, and Product Design.

For information or if you want to join, please click here.

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Nearly 10 years of grassroots and field experience have laid the foundation for our education programs. Smart Shelter Consultancy shares its knowledge with students and professionals around the world. Our many activities include online or on-site workshops, elective courses, summer schools, keynote speeches at conferences, and consultancy work for other NGOs and INGOs.

Please follow this link to Smart Shelter Consultancy and see more about our workshops and teaching programs.