Five years ago, the The New York City Office of Emergency Management held a competition to prepare for the inevitable, to enhance the City's ability to provisionally house residents after a major coastal storm." It wasn't ready for Sandy, but it's almost ready to go. According to Matt Chaban in The New York Observer:
Carved out of shipping containers, these LEGO-like, stackable 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.
Dwell probably would complain about the fake window muntins and interior design.
It is a shame they were not ready for Sandy, but there were a lot of decisions to be made:
On the city side of things, everything had to be debated: Should there be sprinklers? Should it be compliant with the American’s Disabilities Act? What if it violates the zoning code, with the construction of a building larger than zoning would allow, which seems also assured were a five or six story building to be assembled on a parking lot near the beach in, say, Queens or Staten Island, where zoning calls almost exclusively for low-lying single family homes.
“There are certain codes for temporary structures, and certain codes for permanent structures, but this is really neither, so what do you do with it?” Mr. [David] Burney [, commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction} said. “Exceptions have to be made, and figuring those out with all the agencies take times.”
Shipping containers were chosen as the solution because they are a "known quantity" and "It’s rather cool these days to have a house made out of a shipping container.” They are also easy to move; there is an entire ecosystem supporting them. Companies like Sea Box have been building functional industrial structures out of them for years. As for them being late to the party this year,
“Certainly I would have liked to have seen it happen sooner, but that’s just the process,” Commissioner Burney said. “As the mayor keeps saying, this isn’t going to be the last storm we see.”