Cargo containers become green homes

Tapping into current urban design trends and spurred on by a teacher inspired by past and present natural disasters, students from Cañada College have developed plans to turn the rough and stark potential of a steel cargo container into livable space.

Inspired by news footage of the thousands of empty Federal Emergency Management trailers sitting abandoned as victims of Hurricane Katrina went homeless, Cañada College instructor Annie Cronin this year assigned students in her Green Design and Sustainable Concepts class the task of designing housing for natural disaster victims using steel cargo shipping containers. The project also drew inspiration from San Francisco’s earthquake shacks, thousands of which housed the displaced after the 1906 quake.

The designs produced by students included two-story homes, sun-tracking solar panels and a cargo container community for victims of natural disaster to take their first steps toward rebuilding their lives.

Kit Golson, a Redwood City resident and student in Cronin’s class, designed a temporary disaster relief shelter for one person. The bed is four feet high to provide storage underneath and the only movable piece of furniture is a rolling desk chair.

Downplaying the individual kitchen — her design included a community dining hall, community kitchen, garden and laundry unit —she diverted her funds into a laptop for the survivor.

“In a blue-sky world, I would like to see each person have access to the outside world through a laptop,” Golson said. “I kind of put myself in the mind of a person surviving Katrina.”

Cronin encouraged students to use recycled-content materials and focus on energy efficiency, part of which was accomplished by simply reusing the containers, Cronin said. Reports and estimates have put the number of empty cargo containers in the U.S. in the millions due to the trade deficit, as more and more products come in but fewer and fewer go out. The containers themselves can range from 20-feet long up to 80-feet long.

“Part of the green concept is less energy even in transportation,” she said, noting the benefits of not having to ship the cargo boxes to other countries and using local materials.

According to the Port of Oakland, its docks handled 2.3 million 20-foot equivalent cargo units, the international standard for measuring containers, last year.

dsmith@examiner.com

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