Architecture for humanity: Shipping containers as Swiss Army knife

Author: Lee, Ja Yeun; Potangaroa, Regan

Date: 2010-01-01

Type: Conference item

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Surplus commercial shipping containers have re-gained popularity among developed countries recently and are often associated with fashionable, prefabricated second-homes, hotels, and even cities. However, when applied in the context of post-disaster reconstruction, it takes on a new identity as a heroic, “Swiss Army Knife” equivalent of emergency shelter that offers a potential solution to transitional and permanent housing issues in post-disaster reconstruction. In 2009, the University of Auckland in collaboration with Architecture for Humanity (AfH) offered a design studio project to develop shipping containers as prefabricated cores that boil down the vital services for shelter and basic off-grid utilities into as small a package as possible. Twelve post-graduate students from the School of Architecture developed a range of ambitious prefabricated core approaches and variations for recent disasters in twelve different locations covering and in as many climates, cultures and materials. The students faced challenges unique to each situation. Shipping containers were carefully modified for deployment at emergency stage of disaster as a self-sufficient shelter, which was also made adaptable by locals to enable full integration into the urban fabric of their city over time. Local materials and labour may be used to construct structural enclosures and building envelopes, but systems for water, waste, power and ventilation require specialist expertise and non-local components. Prefabricated cores enable such technical systems to be integrated and fabricated off-site and shipped to sites where they can be plugged on-site into a larger building project. Despite the homogenous beginning of a shipping container (the “one size fits all” approach), the potential to package it with useful components make their deployment in disasters an efficient strategy for humanitarian relief work. Enabling self-sufficiency for disaster survivors from early stages of disaster expedites recovery through empowerment and stability.

Subjects: Shipping containers, prefabricated cores, ddaptable design, off-grid systems, 120199 Architecture not elsewhere classified

Copyright: Ja Yeun Lee and Regan Potangaroa