Abandoned Transport Containers: A Possible Answer to Build Haitian Habitats.

I recently heard from a novel idea from Richard Moreta before he flew to Haiti.  I thought his rebuilding efforts were well worth reporting.

The need for speedy provision of housing in case of emergencies was reiterated after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. To address this issue, an international team of designers, headed by Richard Moreta, proposed recycling and adapting shipping containers for temporary living needs by following a simple, inexpensive, and easy to implement design and assembly process.

Richard Moreta is an american architect and his firm called “Richard´s Architecture Design” has offices in Berlin, Mexico City, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Santo Domingo. The firm builds on prior extensive experience in using shipping containers for similar purposes in Bosnia (former Yugoslavia) in 2001, as well as Milan and Portenonne (Italy) in 2002 while Mr. Moreta collaborated with the U.S Corps of Engineers, thus making Mr. Moreta a pioneer in this creative use.

Mr. Moreta’s current proposal is based on a new concept of using a steel frame in which containers are inserted through rubber rollers also used for acoustic insulation. This was identified as an important need in this type of construction. This system is easily scalable in response to evolving needs, without interrupting the life of the inhabitants that are already living in the complex. Using such a system will facilitate the management process of the living complex.  The vertical arrangement of containers mimics the vertical nature of the cities.  Mr. Moreta’s unique system makes it ideal for earthquake zones given that it is light weight and structurally sound. Mr. Moreta’s latest modifications to the system make it meet international standards of sustainable design. As a result of the EU government’s initiative to lower the building industry carbon footprint, as well as of international regulations introduced in April 2006, all new commercial buildings must reduce their carbon footprint by 27%. While many projects will strive to meet these criteria, the “Container City” system lends itself perfectly as a cheap way to recycle industrial products and contribute to achieving the carbon footprint goal.

How can “Container Cities” meet these new requirements?

Mr. Moreta proposes the following:

  • Foundations-specific resistance (existing structure strong yet light)
  • Noise reduction (construction and rapid site installation)
  • Natural ventilation (no need for air conditioning)
  • Photoelectric light-sensitive cells (sensitive to external lighting changes)
  • Thermal efficiency (use external walkways and lift towers, double thickness insulation and sealed south facing glass units)
  • Maximize the use of daylight and minimize use of artificial lighting (fully glazed facades). Separate light and heat controls for each unit. Use modular system with a less open plan.

Potential Environmental Features:

  • Destination of rainwater for reuse in the supply of potable and gray water for later use for irrigation and sanitary.
  • Wind turbines
  • Green Roofs
  • Solar Panels
  • Bio-climatic technology solutions to make this project zero energy.

Given the current global economic conditions, a significant number of shipping containers are idle. Located in many ports around the globe, including the Caribbean, shipping containers can become a speedy solution to providing emergency shelters and storing international aid.

“Container Cities” offer an alternative solution to traditional living/storage space paradigm. “Container Cities” have significant advantages in short and medium term projects. Sites where such projects are developed in the short term can have Container Cities that can be “unbolted” when their use expires and relatively easily and inexpensively moved or stored to a new location for reuse. So far this alternative method of construction was successfully used to create health and youth centers, classrooms, office spaces, artist studios, living quarters, nurseries and retail spaces.

Containers can be transformed into modern houses that are extensible, modular and comparable in terms of comfort to more expensive traditional developments.  Recycling old shipping containers is both a sustainable and economical solution to the growing worldwide need for additional housing.

Operation Haiti:

Originally inspired to meet the emergency housing needs after a major hurricane in southeastern North America and southeastern Caribbean, Mr. Moreta sees the “Container Cities” concept strongly matching the current needs of earthquake struck Haiti. Mr Moreta recently described his concept in the Dominican Republic media:

“Because shipping containers are in essence a structural shell, they prove to be an excellent solution in seismic areas while satisfying the American and international structural code provisions,” says architect Moreta. “They have already been used as emergency shelters in some earthquake struck zones”. As the current international effort to help and rebuild Haiti continues, the ”Container Cities” concept offers a speedy and cost effective solution. With a few simple modifications performed in the port of arrival, a storage container can become a temporary housing unit.

Beyond its technical and cost merits, the “Container Cities” system provides an invaluable contribution to a disaster struck community. Using such a system will allow avoiding the displacement of large numbers of disaster affected people – normally a costly and potentially dangerous operation. “People are the backbone of communities, and communities give strength to people” said Mr. Moreta. “To displace people means to dismantle a community, which can lead to negative socio-economic repercussions”.

Operation HAITI was inspired by a combination of compassion and intelligence. Human needs are at the heart of the creative process, when often simple but effective solutions are discovered. Mr. Moreta believes this is the case with Operation Haiti.

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