Pallet House survives cyclone as Big Idea winners in whirlwind of meetings

Published:25 February 2015

Angus Hughes in front of the renowned Pallet House

The concept stage for a potentially lifesaving pallet house shelter - that helped inspire a trio of CQUniversity Engineering students to win the national Big Issue/Big Idea competition - has come through Tropical Cyclone Marcia unscathed.

The house on the outskirts of Rockhampton, built entirely from pallets, has stood up to wind gusts of up to 285km/h with no damage, and the success has steeled the students' resolve to take their design global.

The pallet house is the prototype for The Shelter Project, an idea developed by the Engineering students to provide emergency shelter after natural disasters. 

In December 2014, the idea won The Big Issue's Big Idea competition, beating other innovative ideas from university students across Australia.

Project team members Jessica Kahl, Angus Hughes and Mattison Rose proposed developing the unique temporary housing from reused industrial pallets, and employing disadvantaged Australians in the construction. Solar panels will ensure residents have power without relying on the grid. 

This week, the team has been in Melbourne, meeting with leaders from The Big Issue and PricewaterhouseCoopers as part of their prize.

LINK to Courier Mail story Pallet house withstands a solid pelting from stormy weather

"It's been incredible to have senior business people look at our idea, and go through our business plan," Jessica said. 

"They had a lot of suggestions we'd never thought of – like having a commercial side of the business, and putting a pallet house in each capital city to run as a café, and put income back into the not-for-profit side."

Jessica said this year the team would focus on creating more prototype pallet houses at CQUniversity Rockhampton North campus, and testing their liveability by making them available for overnight accommodation. 

"There's still a lot of research we need to do – but the fact they're solid in a cyclone is definitely a good sign!" she said. 

CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman said CQUniversity was determined to work with the team, and help the innovative project go global.

"This is a truly great idea, especially after Tropical Cyclone Marcia; CQUniversity is committed to improving recovery efforts wherever disaster strikes," he said.

The Shelter Project's social enterprise will employ less fortunate people to assist in the construction process, providing training, self-esteem, confidence and skills to assist in transitioning to further employment.

The pallet house has been designed so it can be erected in a disaster zone area in minimal time.

Angus Hughes, Jessica Kahl and Mattison Rose were announced as winners during a ceremony in Melbourne late last year.

Associate Vice-Chancellor (Victoria), Lara Carton said the CQUni team "combined their engineering training with an understanding of social enterprise principles resulting in an exciting emergency-relief solution".

"Their project will also have a positive impact on socially disadvantaged people by providing meaningful work and training opportunities," Ms Carton says.

LINK to a feature on the Pallet House concept via 

The Big Idea is a social enterprise planning competition for undergraduate students, coordinated by The Big Issue, Australia's longest standing and most significant social enterprise.

The Big Issue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that delivers solutions to help homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged people to positively change their lives.

The competition invites students to develop a concept and business plan for a social enterprise that might become the next 'Big Issue'.

The Big Idea offers students unprecedented access to social entrepreneurs, Australian 'Thought Leaders' and experts across a variety of business sectors, whose guidance, advice and direction will ensure students are well placed to develop their ideas into business plans for viable social enterprise.

Participating universities included CQUniversity, Curtin, Deakin, Flinders, La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash, Murdoch and Swinburne.