The worst earthquake in the last decade, hit the ancient city of Bam, in south eastern Iran, on 26th December 2003, resulting in 30,000 dead, 20,000 injured and over 60,000 homeless. The devastating 6.6 magnitude quake struck at 5.28 am local time; an hour at which almost all of the city’s 80,000 residents were in bed on the Muslim day of rest. The catastrophe razed more than 80 per cent of the city to the ground. In addition, Bam’s historical landmark—a giant medieval fortress complex of towers, domes and walls, all made of mud-brick— was totally destroyed. This Citadel, (Arg-e Bam), was one of the wonders of Iran’s cultural heritage. According to the Bam Sustainable Development Manifesto, the aim of providing permanent shelter for survivors during the reconstruction phase was to make them as independent of government aid as possible. Householders were encouraged to take an active part in the relief process. During the reconstruction period the Housing Foundation and a number of private engineering and architectural firms announced that ‘the responsibility for rebuilding was for the homeless’. Each firm established processes of consultation with householders and implemented specific approaches to reconstruction based on these consultations. This method of providing shelter increased survivors’ abilities to actively participate in the process of reconstruction. However, the bureaucratic paperwork process was a major obstacle to the success of these operations. This paper is a condensed and edited version of a larger study on the relief and reconstruction process after the Bam earthquake.