Sail to Shelter

CO Architects worked with non-profit Sail to Shelter to design temporary shelters made with repurposed sails. Angela Abshier, founder of…

Sail to Shelter

CO Architects worked with non-profit Sail to Shelter to design temporary shelters made with repurposed sails.

Angela Abshier, founder of not-for-profit Sail to Shelter, reached out to CO Architects in 2020 with an interesting Pro Bono opportunity. Her company, Sail to Shelter, repurposes retired elite sailboat sails into temporary shade and shelter for humanitarian aid organizations around the world. Angela’s mission to get the most out of the durability, strength and size of retired Grand Prix racing sails prompted her to engage a multidisciplinary group of sailmakers, architects and engineers who could help dream-up possibilities for re-using sails as shelter. The group asked: How few cuts can we make and how many simple closures can we design? What structural elements do we need for stability? Do we use zippers or Velcro or grommets for closures? Windows? Air-vents? How many different ways can we use what we have? Do we make one “bikini tent” with a strap that can be rolled up like a yoga mat?

CO was excited to participate, starting with a design charrette in 2020 and another one in 2022 where the group came up with unique shelter solutions. In the latest charrette, Arup (engineers), Doyle Sails (a top sail manufacturer) and Dimension Polyant (largest sail cloth manufacturer) joined CO Architects and Angela to share ideas. For inspiration, Angela encouraged the participants to watch the incredible Best of J CLASS Yacht Racing video. Angela’s vision is to use the most elite sails in the world to construct refugee camps to help meet the needs of millions of humans suffering extraordinary hardship.

Charrette at CO's office

Charrette Brief:

Sail to Shelter: The next best thing you can do with a racing sail.

Mission: Sail to Shelter is a nonprofit that collects retired racing sails and gives them a second life. Our products range from backpacks to industrial sized installations like shade and shelter facilities.  We are committed to keeping sails out of landfill by upcycling on an industrial scale. By repurposing sails we are reducing the impact of the industry and creating a more sustainable economy for sails. We are cleaning out harbors, creating jobs, reducing the risk of micro plastics entering the environment, and serving communities in need. We are creating solutions based on second uses. Success will be measured by how much sail material is kept from landfill and how many people we can help. We are currently working to establish a global inventory of sails that can be drawn upon and converted into useful and functional solutions. For this exercise, we will be focusing on different sizes and shapes of the mainsail.

The Opportunity: World Central Kitchen (WCK): WCK is first to the frontlines, providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises.

We have the opportunity to create functional solutions for WCK to aid in their efforts to supply humanitarian aid around the world. Solutions should be simple to construct and install. We can create designs in any shape or size as long as they are manageable under extreme and unknown conditions. Solutions can be stand alone or can attach to a building, fencing or even a vehicle. Functionality can include:

    Information on sail construction and material can be found here:

      The charrette started with a Miro board where everyone got to share their designs and ideas. Contributors included COworkers Jiming Bai, Chloee Shaheen, Emilio Todescato, Mahyard Nagshvar, Nazli, Parmis Hanachi and Yuxuan Chen. 

      Miro board examples of ideas

      The CO team then designed mockups seen below:

      Shelter mockups

      Shortly after the second charrette, Sail to Shelter began working with Farm from a Box and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at one of their locations in Sacramento. With the goal of prototyping solutions that could be iterated, scaled and replicated around the world, we began construction on the first prototype on two exceptionally hot days in August. A small but determined team of volunteers gathered at IRC’s Karma Farm in Sacramento to stand up one of our favorite architectural concepts designed by Jiming Bai. The results were exciting and affirming. On hand from CO was Fabian Kremkus; Sail to Shelter Founder Angela Abshier and volunteer and donor Lisa Leonard; Scott Thompson, Founder of Farm From a Box; Tristan Kudak and Ram Khatiwoda from the IRC; Meg Ruxton and Ron Young from the St. Francis Yacht Club; and a team from Sundt Construction including Sean Falvey, Igor Ubryanov, Tanya Husum, and Mike Mielcarek. Lesley Ewing, Chapter Chair for the Northern California Chapter of the Explorer’s Club paid a visit as well. The workshop was a huge success, and convinced everyone beyond doubt that the elegance of an elite sail can be transformed into lifesaving shade and shelter.

      The work in Sacramento was a big step forward that validated how useful the material is and the opportunities it presents. Looking forward, we hope to do a project in Los Angeles and have a group of interested volunteers to take part. We ran out of time during our Sacramento prototyping adventure to try other options that were generated during the charrette process, but this was a satisfying solution to repurposing sails that happened to be a ton of fun.