Although the Urban Post Disaster Housing Prototype – designed by Brooklyn’s Garrison Architects – shares a superficial resemblance to other modular prefab homes, it is distinguished by a remarkable flexibility. Thanks to narrow modules that can be stacked in a handful of different arrangements, its units can be deployed more quickly and safely than other housing types, often in less than 15 hours.
When disaster strikes, the semi-permanent structures can be trucked and craned into vacant lots, private yards and public spaces to give people whose homes have been destroyed a long-term option that doesn’t require leaving their friends, family and neighbourhoods behind. “It allows residents to remain within their communities instead of being displaced for months, or even years,” says principal architect James Garrison of the scheme. “Keeping neighbourhoods intact is crucial for successful rebuilding.”
A total of five modules have been constructed and installed in central Brooklyn, where guests will live in them over five-day periods for the next several months, completing an extended study of how the prototypes function. The structure’s five individual units comprise nearly 200 square metres in all, offering up to five families temporary homes with one or three bedrooms, a living area, bathroom, kitchen and storage.
The program’s emphasis on efficiency extends beyond deployment to include its materials and operation as well; the units are built from completely recyclable materials with a high-efficiency double-insulated shell, and optional photovoltaic panels that allow the units to operate off-grid. Garrison Architects placed the floor-to-ceiling glazing of the balcony doors behind integrated shading to reduce heat gain.
The firm received the brief from American Manufactured Structures and Services, a contractor that oversees the construction of facilities for the US federal government, fulfilling a contract from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Although Hurricane Sandy’s landfall in 2012 brought new urgency to the project, the prototype follows over six years of the city’s research into the concept.
And while the prototype was designed to respond to a specific request from the New York City Office of Emergency Management, it is intended for use nationwide. “These modules aren’t just for New York City,” says Garrison. “They were designed to meet the strictest zoning requirements in the US, meaning they can be quickly deployed to any corner of the country.”