Shelter is the third in a trilogy of collaborative works that began with 1999's The Carbon Copy Building, followed by 2001's Lost Objects. Shelter taps into the various meanings and connotations of the word, from basic protection from the elements to the building of an American home. Commissioned in 2005 by the Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik and BAM's Next Wave Festival, the project reunited Gordon, Lang, and Wolfe with Deborah Artman, who wrote the libretto for Lost Objects. Artman notes that Shelter "evokes the power and threat of nature, the soaring frontier promise contained in the framing of a new house, the pure aesthetic beauty of blueprints, the sweet architecture of sound and the uneasy vulnerability that underlies even the safety of our sleep."
Like Lost Objects, Shelter is an oratorio, but with smaller forces: three sopranos and a large, mixed ensemble. Ensemble Signal first performed the work in 2010 at the Bang on a Can Marathon in New York City. This premiere recording—conducted by Brad Lubman and featuring vocal soloists Martha Cluver, Mellissa Hughes, and Caroline Shaw—was produced by Michael Riesman. On Shelter's American premiere at BAM in 2005, which was also conducted by Lubman, The Wall Street Journal's Barbara Jepson wrote, "The pursuit of shelter is as old as humanity itself. But these forms of refuge can be shattered in an instant, as events like the terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina have all too recently reminded us."