Changing Planet

Behind the Viral Sensation: Concrete Canvas Goes Beyond Fast-Deploying Shelters

National Geographic’s recent video on Concrete Canvas shelters went viral, as nearly 4.8 million YouTube viewers saw how quickly a sturdy structure could be raised when air is blown into wetted, cement-covered cloths. So we caught up with Peter Brewin, director of the U.K.-based Concrete Canvas company, to get the story behind the innovation.

Concrete Canvas shelters can be set up rapidly. Photo courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.

Can people buy the Concrete Canvas shelters now?

Yes, our shelters are available from different distributors in different territories.  We have a distributor for the U.S. as well as other places.

How many Concrete Canvas shelters are out there?

Not a huge number. We’ve been growing very quickly, and our focus has been on the Concrete Canvas material, which in the U.S. is called Concrete Cloth. This is being used in a whole range of applications—primarily in civil works, for things like stabilizing slopes and lining water channels.

We will still produce shelters if buyers want them, but we haven’t put a lot of focus on that. A few have been bought by militaries.

How much do the shelters cost?

It depends on the volumes [of the order], thickness of the material, and your location. We supply most of the world from our U.K. plant, and the Concrete Canvas costs between 15 and 40 British pounds per square meter, in the U.K. ($23 to $60). For the U.S. we have a licensee: Milliken.

A Concrete Canvas shelter would cost 15,000 to 20,000 pounds, in the U.K., for a one-off ($23,000 to $30,000), but the price steps down if you are buying volumes.

Concrete Canvas shelter deployment
Concrete Canvas shelters are blown up quickly. Photo courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.


Concrete Canvas shelter interior
Concrete Canvas shelters can be surprisingly inviting inside. Photo courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.

What are some examples of how the shelters are used?

There are many interesting projects with the Concrete Canvas material, including one in Chile where they are installing a gold mine at very high altitude: 5,000 meters (16,400 feet). On one side of the valley there is a glacier, and they wanted to prevent the melt runoff from going into the mine tailings [and picking up toxic material], so they built intercepts out of our material to carry water below.  These are very difficult conditions to work in, where workers can only put in five hours a day because of the low oxygen, and our material is much lighter than alternatives, so it was easier to work with.

Most of the shelter projects have been military. We supplied shelters to the U.S. military for tests, which sent some to Okinawa, Japan. We have also supplied the Swedish, Dutch, and [United Arab Emirates] militaries, most of these for tests. The Swedes put one on a range and tested it against mortars. They were quite pleased with how it performed.

What about humanitarian applications?

We haven’t sold a huge number to NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. We put quite a lot of effort into that early on, but we’ve had real difficulty. It’s partly the political element, because people don’t want to put up a semipermanent building for a crisis; they want to believe a refugee camp will go away soon. NGO customers also want a very large number of shelters if there is a crisis, but that is very difficult for a small company to supply.

NGOs would often want us to secure the funding, so we would have to get a donor involved, usually a government, so it was going to take an awful lot to get into the aid sector. We still think the shelters are really cool, and there’s a lot of potential. But right now we are focusing on the material.

There is a lot of interest for hurricane shelters, and we’ve got a test project to evaluate that and other applications this summer [in the U.K.].

Chile Concrete Canvas installation
A channel is lined with Concrete Canvas, to direct glacier melt runoff away from a mine site in Chile. Photo courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.

Can you take us through the history of Concrete Canvas?

Eight or nine years ago, Will [Crawford] and I met doing postgraduate degrees in industrial engineering at Imperial College London and Royal College of Arts. There was a design competition run by the British Cement Association, and we really liked the idea of making efficient shelters very quickly.

To make that work we had to develop a Concrete Canvas material, which we could make dry in a thin layer, wet in an uncontrolled way, then have it set without cracks into a reliably strong form. That was a remarkably difficult thing to get right.

Our original business plan was focused on the humanitarian sector, so we went to Uganda and got very positive feedback. We won a lot of business-plan and design awards that helped fund the start-up, got some government funding and private-equity investors, and borrowed a derelict factory. After another round of funding we set up a production line in south Wales.

About five years ago we made our first sale, to the British military, to protect sandbags in Afghanistan. They survived a lot longer [than untreated sandbags] in a firefight. In our range demonstration, we showed that a sandbag wall covered in Concrete Canvas stopped 1,100 machine gun bullets.

Then we saw the material was really useful in construction. It can be set up about ten times faster than other methods. Instead of pouring or spraying concrete that has to be 50 to 150 millimeters thick (2 to 6 inches), our material is 8 millimeters thick (0.3 inches) for most applications. Laying slabs of concrete by hand is very slow and labor intensive, and spraying concrete is messy. Pouring concrete requires formwork.

Another interesting project was [when we covered] a pipeline in the Middle East; they dropped our material off a boat and divers installed it under water. It solves a problem in a totally new way. We also do a lot of slope stabilization. You just hang it off a crane, roll it off like carpet, then pin it.

Concrete Canvas slope protection
Concrete Canvas is rolled off a crane to stabilize a slope. Photo courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.


Concrete Canvas roll
Concrete Canvas is rolled up like cloth. Photo courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.

Is Concrete Canvas a green design?

Concrete is not the most carbon-neutral material. You use a lot of energy to make it, and when it sets, it releases carbon dioxide. But the advantage of our material is that you are using about 10 percent of the mass of alternatives, so you are emitting less carbon dioxide and saving on transport emissions. It is less bad than other ways of solving that problem.

The mixture we use also has a very low alkali capacity, so if you use it in a watercourse you do less damage to aquatic organisms.

Do you think your story has resonated so well because it is an example of “thinking outside the box” in our built environment?

Yeah, we tick that box pretty clearly. We’ve got several patents on the technology, and it’s a completely new way of using concrete.

It can be hard to convince engineers to use it the first time, but once they try it we normally get a lot of repeat orders.

  • Raoul Alvarez

    Positively a product worth thinking of and providing under a host of conditions, emergency or otherwise, including mining, water distribution, etc. More access to information needed. FYI, I represent a London-based firm that propagates ASSF process technology in the production of ethanol.




  • karie gamlin

    how about the ventillation…n do we need or can we fit a.c inside it?

  • hojat

    veryvery good your porogram.
    all people enjoy waching your program

  • Curtis Carr

    What about a ventilation point for heating in the winter? A small heating stove inside that would need to be ventilated out of the top.

  • Chris

    Its always about a new class of material. New material = lots of new ideas and inventions

  • Terry

    $23,000 – $30,000 for some concrete impregnated canvas? Wow….I need some of whatever drugs you people are on.

  • Rachel Holmes

    I was just wondering it says $20,000-$30,000 is that US dollars? and do they start out at $20,000?

  • Jeffrey G Druzak

    I see many applications and would like to be your distribution arm in the United States.

  • Moshe Minin

    How can i find you? get in touch
    Please e mail me.

  • Tossouvi Phillipe Prince

    I saw the pictures and watched the videos and love the ideas and I believe it would sell here in Africa because people are tired of wasting money for block buildings as offices and house but what about the sun? I will love to be your distributor in Africa..

  • Luther Jannusch

    Here in Thailand $30,000 USD builds 2 beds, living room, kitchen, bathroom, porch, fixtures, utilities, decorative treatments, lock stock and barrel. If I search, (or perhaps create for myself), I’m certain one can still turn a great profit at $5,000 USD. This company is greedy and trying to make a fast buck. Only decadent wealthy westerners would actually buy this crap at these prices.

  • Maurice nelson

    Hi I used some similar stuff for ground works wen upgrading the m6 at gretna as pond liners and hated it as it was heavy and hard to work with but it came from Germany I have to say I love the shelter idea if I ever have the money to buy then I wouldnt hesitate wot a great idea don’t ever give up on these as in our ever changing climate I’m sure these are destined to take off in a big way I mean imagine if during the second world war instead of Anderson shelters u had these I love them and it’s brittish nice !

  • dt johnny lloode

    we would like to buy as many as possible for our NGOs in AFRIKKA…

    right now we use shipping containers

    please contact us at intl friends of afrikka
    dr johnny lloode

    thanks urgent

  • Gary McNeish

    We to are currently at the prototype stage. With a system that is similar to that of Concrete Canvas. We use a fiberglass sandwich system. The fiberglass is impregnated with a water activated resin with the wolds most environmental friendly cement. It is far cheaper with a cleaner smother finish.

    Interested parties please contact me at:

  • James Thigpen

    Is this a publicly traded company?

  • Chris

    A 20×30 sq/ft structure with 10ft sidewalls assuming 1/2 inch thick concrete canvas would contain 1.85 cu/yds of cement. The local price for concete or grout is $75-95 per cubic yard. You can get a quality canvas tarp that size $500. A pool liner to inflate such a structure would cost about $1000. A blower for a kids “moonwalk” inflatable is $100-200. Total raw materials at RETAIL prices is no more than $2k, wholesale costs would be evn less, maybe 50% putting raw materials at $1k. Shipping might be close to $500. Whomever is pricing these things at $20k is out of his mind.

  • Kathryn Stevenson

    I agree with many of the comments here concerning the pricing. I realize that you have had investors and have worked for years inventing and perfecting this, but at these prices you have outpriced yourself for humanitarian purposes and that is too bad. I think that if the prices were dropped by at least 25% initially until this caught on, you would have more success.

  • Gary McNeish

    I am currently at the prototype stage. With a system that is similar to that of Concrete Canvas. I use a fiberglass sandwich system. The fiberglass is impregnated with a water activated resin with the wolds most environmental friendly cement. It is far cheaper with a cleaner, smother finish.

    My costs are at least 50 to 70% less than Concrete canvas. Our offices are in Manchester. UK. Florida USA and Mumbai India. I can also offer a build to your own design service. I will make to your requirements so you do not have to make do.

    Interested parties please contact me at:

  • Aaron Cox

    I agree, ridiculously over priced. Just greedy! Thank God for reverse Engineering. Hopefully CN will have it for a tenth of the price soon, good luck for your “Patent” over there! Such a great idea and should be shared, image the applications for the less fortunate!

  • Roxanne Hinkle

    my comment is not unlike othets as to the price,but i love the ideas and the outside the box thinking our planet needs to utilize less wood less cutting of resources that provide cleaning of air and habitat..I have operated a homeless vetetan outreach for 8 years i need suitable overhead shelters ,solid not tent ,and disinfectable..but i still search as the prices are crazy high..Howrver i compliment your endeavers i know they are brilliant

  • scott bowlan

    I just finished producing the very same concrete cloth using the same 3D mesh polyester and it cost me just under $2.00 a square foot to produce a 3×10 foot roll.
    I could wholesale the same concrete canvas at just $11.50 lineal foot.
    but because the finished product holds 2lbs. Portland cement per, square foot the shipping would be a killer.
    a 3 x 10 foot roll weighs over 60lbs. and a sheet 3×10 feet does not go very far.

  • Anas Balushi

    I agree with the others, the item is overly expensive, with 30,000 USD, I can build two rooms fully furnished including labour, it will take me around one month to build it, possibly in less time with more labour. The only good in this shelter is setting a semi-permanent building in very remote areas with limited labour and materials, such as hight altitude mountains, sandy deserts, the South Pole, etc.

  • Dr. Adnan

    CC performs very excellent for slope protection and stabilization and it is an alternative to guniting or shotcreting. With a CBR Puncture Resistance of 2.69kN, it definitely can be incorporated with a nailing/anchoring system etc.

  • Bryan Jones

    Concrete canvas is a brilliant concept, with many applications reduced by overpricing. The letters on this site are a year old and I was hoping there was more news by now regarding development, distribution and pricing?

  • James Brandon

    This is such a great idea, but you’re going to have to change your corporate structure, scale of manufacturing, and marketing. The manufacturing, pricing, and distribution are really messed up. Almost ten years after I first saw the video, and it’s virtually impossible to purchase a small quantity to experiment with. You’re doing yourselves (and society) a huge disservice with such bad business, and you’ll end up losing out on your own innovation. I suggest quickly getting acquired by a global company in the chemical or industrial materials sector (i.e.Dupont), with base, or major operations in the U.S. (Miliken is too small, too limited).

  • Robert Morris

    Innovative product, I think what they need licensed manufacturers of the product to worldwide vendors. Let them pay a fee per square meter and let market set the price.
    I have inquired several times for pricing and availability in the USA, I have yet to receive a single response I’m sure its because they are overwhelmed all the more reason to license the thing. They may learn the same lesson Sony had to learn with the Beta VCR tech.

  • Niall Wildwoode

    I tried contacting this company over a year, and never got a single reply. Yes, if they’re not there already, they’re heading for extinction. The costs of the canvas are a joke, and their inability to deal with basic purchase enquiries even in their own country, shows either arrogance or stupidity. But if anyone Googles the patent for concrete canvas, you’ll find that it’s not so difficult to create a facsimile.

  • Hugo Lindum

    The concept is interesting but this company is going down the tubes. Go to China or wherever and get your own made. Don’t waste your time with them.

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