NYC Grad Students Reimagine Disaster Relief (Photos)

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All Images Courtesy of Pratt Institute

At an exhibition at the Pratt Insitute's Brooklyn Campus last Thursday, two graduate industrial design students presented to the public their ambitious idea for revolutionizing disaster relief efforts worldwide. The students, Mike Seto and David Kim, focused on the recovery stage of relief, rather than the immediate post-disaster response, and the result is (project) PL: a way to provide disaster victims with communal, transportable, and unique spaces where they can rebuild their lives and communities.Seto and Kim first envisioned their project while visiting New Orleans, where they were struck by how difficult the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery has been, and by the number of residents still living in FEMA trailers. They believed that there had to be a better way to help struggling communities rebuild themselves, and so (project) PL - the "PL" is for place, as in (New Orleans) PL - was born.

Juliana Curran Terian Design Center Gallery_Mike Seto.JPG

For inspiration, Seto and Kim looked at town and religious centers, places where people gather. The project website explains:

(project) PL works to retrofit shipping containers with solar powered wi-fi antennas, shipped with modular platforms, and used in conjunction with touchscreen computers to create community spaces for victims of disasters. Emergency housing has been well examined, but what about public parks, community classrooms, or temporary markets? We believe in the need for new physical spaces that reflect our new virtual and physical connectivity.

Adding WiFi and computers, they believe, will make the structures centers for education and entertainment. The retrofit shipping containers can be assembled in any number of ways, so each community will have the chance to build the center they want, rather than have one imposed on them. Seto also spoke of having local artists paint murals on the structures, further developing a sense of local pride and participation. Furthermore, all materials will be reusable for future relief situations: "It didn't feel right to just make more stuff," Kim said.

All these points hearken back to the idea that people who have survived natural or man-made disasters need emergency housing, food, and medical care. But to rebuild their lives, they need a sense of community. To strengthen this connection, the exhibition was held in conjunction with National PARK(ing) Day.

Model 2_Mike Seto photo

Of course, there's a ways to go before (project) PL can become a reality. Seto and Kim's recent exhibition featured models on a 1:32 scale; they are currently working on full scale models and are applying for grants. For now, the project is still an idealistic one- there are still a number of logistical problems to be tackled, including how to prevent looting, the difficulties of transporting large structures in unstable regions, and the myriad, unpredictable problems that accompany any disaster situation. Nevertheless, (project) PL is inspired in its willingness to take on an issue as difficult as disaster relief, and highly original in its use of materials and approach.

More on disaster relief:
Food, Water, and... Permaculture? Rethinking Disaster Relief for Haiti and Beyond
New Water Desalination Process Could Help With Disaster Relief
100% Recyclable Refuge: The reCover Disaster Relief Shelter

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