For the past five years, the Bloomberg administration has been quietly developing a first-of-its-kind disaster housing program, creating modular apartments uniquely designed for the challenges of urban living. Carved out of shipping containers, these LEGO-like, stack-able apartments offer all the amenities of home. Or more, since they are bigger, and brighter, than the typical Manhattan studio. It’s the FEMA trailer of the future, built with the Dwell reader in mind.
The program started a few years ago in response to hurricane Katrina, then the City held a design contest called What if NYC. The focus of this contest was to design a form of disaster housing that would work in the density of NYC. Requirements included the ability to house a high number of people, have numerous configurations, be rapidly deploy-able, as well as energy and cost efficient. The design challenge had 117 entries from 52 different countries. The winners of the contest can still be viewed here.
Following the very public contest the design process continued out of the public eye. In 2009 the city issued an expression of interest to see who would be willing to undertake the project of designing and developing shipping container housing. Sea Box, a New Jersey based shipping container modification company responded, the result is a one bedroom one bathroom apartment created out of shipping containers that can be up to four stories tall. In addition there are models that allow you to link more than one container together to create housing for families. These prototypes are designed to run both on and off the grid.
Each container apartment is planned to cost between $50,000 and $80,000, and hopefully be covered by FEMA. A prototype of the Sea Box community is being planed for the NYC’s OEM headquarters, behind the Brooklyn Bridge. The pilot project was put on hold by Hurricane Sandy, and it is unknown when it will be restarted, due to the city’s resources being re-purposed for relief effort.
It will be interesting to see where this development goes, as this type of design can be used to replace the much maligned FEMA trailer so prevalent after hurricane Katrina. The minimal amount of land required, as well as the desire to use these to help rebuild a sense of community makes the proposal strong. Hopefully the prototype is successful, and will help spur more companies to propose similar structures both for NYC and for other areas around the country.
This story was originally reported in the New York Observer and can be found here.