The New York City Office of Emergency Management has unveiled a housing unit they believe could be the best place to ride out disaster relief efforts when the next Superstorm Sandy hits. Because Sandy (or worse) will hit again, and in a city with limited space and no disaster housing, the FEMA trailers just won’t, and have never, really cut it.
Garrison Architects designed the prototype for the emergency housing unit, which the city is currently calling the “Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program.”
All photos © Andrew Rugge/archphoto
The three-story unit located in downtown Brooklyn currently houses three apartments, ranging in size from a 480-square-foot one bedroom, to an 813-square-foot three bedroom. Each shipping container–like unit is a flexible configuration of a living area, bedrooms, full kitchen, bath, and storage areas, which give the small spaces an almost homey feel — great news considering most of these so-called temporary housing units tend to be much longer term than anticipated.
Whether these units are truly comfortable, humane housing options are yet to be seen, but city staff will put this prototype to a year of testing as they live in the unit at five-day intervals at a time.
Though these units are clearly a step up from forcing evacuees to live in classrooms and homeless shelters, it’s hard to say if this is truly the solution to disaster relief efforts in cramped cities like New York. Where will these prefabricated, modular, stackable housing units actually fit into the urban fabric? Limited space and an already incredibly full housing market means these units will have to be placed in parks, parking lots, and vacant lots. And, because the city would like to keep these units within the neighborhoods affected, allowing residents to stay in their neighborhoods rather than relocating to different parts of the city, it means that either the units will have to be stacked high or take up every nook and cranny of empty space. Perhaps, the city will be left with very little breathing room and a stuffy, claustrophobic feel — not a very humane atmosphere.
Still, efforts to supply urban areas with emergency shelters should be applauded. FEMA trailers have been incredibly controversial, slow, and unsuited for long-term stays. They’re bulky and unsightly. So, having a thoughtful design that’s more than just a set of walls, like jail cells, to keep people out of the way is important for the morale and confidence of residents in post-disaster situations. After the next big one hits, hopefully, we’ll all be hunkered down in our cities' new modular emergency housing units … after testing, of course.