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How to cope with housing loss post disaster? NYC to test innovative housing prototype – out of the box thinking!

November 23, 2012

What does one do with a sea container at the end of its productive life?  Well, you just might be surprised at that answer.  Housing!

A giant student dorm serves as a shining example of “cargotecture,” the growing application of discarded steel shipping containers to serve architectural purposes around the globe.

NYC is looking to find innovative ways to deal with an acute housing shortage for the thousands of families left homeless by Superstorm Sandy. New York City and federal officials are pushing ahead with plans to develop a new line of temporary housing that could be rolled out quickly for future disasters. Those plans, city officials said, call for using shipping containers, or other types of modular units, that — unlike trailers — could be stacked high to maximize space in a city with little real estate to spare.

By the way, this is not a new idea!  Cities like Amsterdam have been using containers for some time to deal with their housing shortage.  I think it is a pretty amazing form of recycling!

A home made from a shipping container.

The city’s disaster housing plan, which has been under development for five years would not affect those currently displaced by the storm. They have been scattered across the city in hotels, friends’ homes and vacant apartments.

City and federal officials plan to solicit proposals for the new disaster housing units next year, and to build a multistory prototype on a city-owned parking lot near the Brooklyn Bridge. About one-third of the $1.3 million project is being paid for by the city, and the rest by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Shipping containers are easily repurposed for this kind of housing because they are durable, plentiful and relatively inexpensive. The estimated cost for each converted container would be $50,000 to $80,000.

A typical shipping container — about 40 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 9 feet 6 inches tall — is large enough to serve as a self-contained apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living area. Two containers could be combined for larger families, and more containers could be stacked or grouped together for a neighborhood feeling.

New York City’s emergency management office seeks to find better solutions for what to do with those displaced by natural disasters, including units that could be stacked high to maximize space.

The idea of using shipping containers originally came from a city-sponsored design contest — called “What If New York City” — that sought long-term disaster housing ideas; entries included proposals for dirigibles and barges, among other things.

If the prototype is successful, city officials said, arrangements can be made with suppliers to deliver them to the five boroughs immediately after a disaster. Once that crisis had passed, the units could then be taken apart and stored until the next time disaster struck.

Sound crazy?  Check out some of the websites below.  I think you might change your mind!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2012 03:54

    $50,000 to $80,000 to repurpose a shipping container? Sounds very expensive when you can get a trailer for just $30,000 that is bigger. Sure you can’t stack them, but the cost for “temporary” housing seems out of line. There are homes in my town that cost less than $80,000 and are not 9 foot by 12 foot.

    • November 25, 2012 13:00

      Thanks for your post – it does seem pricey doesn’t it?!?! After doing research into it for the blog I felt that they really wouldn’t be temporary – like the ones in Europe they are meant to be solid housing that lasts a very long time. Around here in SF you can still find the EQ houses that were built after the 1906 EQ and Fire. They were small boxes, solid in construction and people just added onto them! Hope you had a great holiday! Be well, Regina

  2. December 10, 2012 11:05

    The article says that the standard width of a shipping container is 12′. That is not true. The typical width is 8′ and therein lies one of the problem in using containers to create permanent housing. 8′ is just to narrow for most rooms. Typical modular homes have a module width of 12′-16′, with 14′ likely being the most common. It makes more sense to me, and more economical, to build a box with a more workable dimension that could start our small but be expanded into something larger and more permanent that ultimately is indistinguishable from conventional housing. Here is an example of that:

    Click to access exmod.pdf

    It could be designed out of 2″x6″ wood frame to meet hurricane wind standards and would be much easier to expand and customize.

    • December 10, 2012 15:21

      Thanks Jorge for your post, comments and link! Very interesting! Be well, Regina

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