News Treehugger Voices Shipping Container Architecture From Studio 804 Makes Sense Students build 12 units of housing for the homeless in a time of need. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Updated September 9, 2021 06:02PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Studio 804 News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Many architecture students graduate from university without ever swinging a hammer. Learning how to actually build something is not in the curriculum. Not at the University of Kansas Department of Architecture—students there can sign up for Studio 804. "Students work on all aspects of the design and the construction process over the course of a nine month academic year. This includes all systems, construction documents, estimates, working with zoning and code officials, site layout, placing concrete, framing, roofing, siding, setting solar panels, landscape and more — there isn’t anything we don’t do ourselves." Students pouring concrete foundations. Studio 804 Normally they build lovely single-family houses to LEED Platinum and sometimes PHIUS standards, which are then sold. But these are not normal times. So this year, they built Monarch Village, "an innovative shelter solution that meets the needs of families experiencing homelessness in a rapidly changing world while supporting their transition to permanent housing." "Working through the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic Studio804 donated and built 12 safe, easy to staff dwellings that offer much-needed privacy for families while allowing guests access to important services at the shelter. It is hoped that this project will be a precedent supporting the movement away from housing the homeless in gymnasium-like rooms full of bunk beds." Studio 804 The units are built inside recycled shipping containers, long a hot topic of discussion on Treehugger, where we often ask does shipping container architecture make sense? We have even questioned whether it makes sense for disaster relief housing. Studio 804 Shipping containers are hard to work with: They are covered in toxic paints, and their interior dimensions are designed for freight, not people. But for stand-alone units, where most of the walls are kept intact, and for this kind of use, they can probably be justified. Studio 804 "Each unit includes space for four people with two separate sleeping areas, a bunk bed in one and a pull-out sleeper couch in the other. In addition, each unit has a full bathroom and small kitchenette. One unit has been designed to be fully ADA accessible. All the furniture and cabinetry was designed and built by the students of Studio 804. The cafeteria in the main building serves meals to the entire shelter population using a farm to plate concept. The small kitchenettes are designed for supplemental food preparation and fresh water. Each unit is fully sprinklered to offer the highest standard in fire safety for the families." Axonometric plan. Studio 804 Shipping containers can also become solar cookers in the sun, so careful measures have to be taken to prevent overheating. Here they have insulated the interior of the box and used the container doors to act like brise soliel, shading the southwest wall in summer and allowing heat gain in winter. Windows at each end permit cross-ventilation and a ductless mini-split heat pump provide heating and cooling as required. There is an energy recovery ventilator to provide fresh air. Note the screens beside the units to cool them when plants grow. Studio 804 To top it all off, "steel greenscreens adjacent to the units support native plants and vines and shade the containers to keep the surfaces cooler and lessen the demands put on the HVAC systems." This is really clever and natural; in the winter the leaves fall off and the sun can heat the box. Come back when the vines have grown on to the metal screens. Studio 804 Note how each container is sitting on just four big round concrete piers; that is because containers are designed to sit on just those four corner posts that include the universal corner castings. Containers are designed to move; I have noted before that they are not just a box, but part of a global transportation system with a vast infrastructure of ships, trains, trucks, and cranes that has driven the cost of shipping down to a fraction of what it used to be. This project has been designed with that versatility in mind: "If the units ever need to be moved, they have been designed to allow this to happen with relative ease. The containers are elevated 6" off the ground and bolted to the concrete foundation piers. The electric and water hookups are at the outer walls and can be disconnected with minimal effort." Covered patio between units. Studio 804 I still have reservations about shipping container housing and the idea of four people sharing 140 square feet in a metal box. Studio 804 goes a long way to ameliorating the problem by having a 900-square-foot commons shelter and a cafeteria in the main building, so people are not trapped in the small space all day. Perhaps the smartest gesture is the shared covered patio between every two units, expanding the usable space and shading the box. Studio 804 Students hard at work. Studio 804 In the end, the most important thing about a Studio 804 project isn't the product, but the process. The students not only design the project but do everything, hands-on: "This education is not unlike doing a medical residency before becoming a practicing doctor. It makes as little sense to have architecture graduates who sees the idea of displacement ventilation as a mystery as it does to have a graduating doctor who does not know how the lungs work." Indeed, as we have seen in the recent pandemic, practicing architects still see ventilation as a mystery. And just as doctors are dealing with the medical part of the Covid-19 crisis, Studio 804 is dealing with the housing part of the crisis, providing a roof over the heads of up to 48 people. They could have built another nice single-family house but stepped up to do meet a greater need. This may be the most important lesson that these students learn.