The Clemson University School of Architecture is having a moment of fame with their SEED project, where they turn shipping containers into housing. In the wake of the Haiti disaster, Professor Doug Hecker tout the virtues of the magic box in Science Daily:
"Because of the shipping container's 'unibody' construction they are also very good in seismic zones and exceed structural code in the United States and any country in the world," Hecker said. "They have also been used in other countries as emergency shelters in the case of earthquakes. As the SEED Project develops this will certainly be an area that we incorporate. With a few simple cuts at the port, a storage container can be turned into something that is livable and opens to the site."
Um, many not so fast.
Pernille Christensen collaborated on the SEED project.
"You get people back in their communities and it strengthens those communities," Christensen said. "They work on their home, not a temporary shelter, and then they work with their neighbors to rebuild the neighborhood. It leads to a healthier and safer community. And these are places often in dire need of better housing."
Cameron Sinclair thinks otherwise, and in his slideshows, shows many pictures of imposed solutions, of steel boxes that are ovens, of housing that does not meet the needs of the people living there. He continues to say, go slow, think about what you are doing, work with the people.
After Hurricane Katrina our architecture and construction professionals spent four years living and working in Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. By setting up community housing resource centers and working directly with families we could create not only the appropriate and sustainable structures but homes that fit the lives of its' residents. In order serve the families suffering right now we need to develop long term reconstruction initiatives that include the voices of those affected at the heart of the plans.
Top down solutions will cause tragic consequences for generations to come. This cannot happen in Haiti. They have suffered enough.
The SEED project presents a lot of good ideas, and there is no question that the shipping container glut presents both problems and opportunities. But I think that Cameron has a point.
Brian points me to a video of students building a medical building for Haiti a few years ago. They discuss the problems of heat and air circulation.