On our p2p-research list, Eric Hunting responded to a query by Marco Fioretti about housing solutions to the earthquake in Italy.
Here’s the interesting response, with lots of resources as well:
“To start with, I’d like to point out the Fab-Prefab web site as a good resource;
There seem to be some conflicting objectives here. Is the objective relief shelter (instant shelter for an emergency), transitional housing (quick-build or prefabricated but still temporary housing for long durations, such as during a protracted period of reconstruction) or actual reconstruction? (systems for mass housing construction to speed community reconstruction)
Generally, it seems that Italy has covered the emergency relief shelter issue more-or-less adequately. The phase now is transitional housing because it will likely take many months to gear-up for a reconstruction effort and that reconstruction will take many years. This is a precarious period for communities because governments generally don’t handle this transitional phase well. Politicians just don’t have the necessary attention spans for this, don’t have a good grasp of -or concern for- what makes communities work, or any knowledge of options for this kind of housing -falling prey to corporations pushing things like trailer homes or looking for similar ‘quick fix’ solutions like moving people out of their communities to subsidized housing far away, leaving communities empty and at risk of delayed reconstruction or being declared obsolete and not worthy of further help because there’s no one physically there to fight for them. So it’s in this period where communities risk dying before they can be reconstructed. The government response is more dangerous to the ultimate survival of communities than the original disaster is because they typically do not respect the identity of place and communities. They only understand them as masses of individuals they can move around at will. It’s up to the residents to fight for rights as a community, which is almost impossible once they get moved away and dispersed.
Ideally, transitional housing should be in or near the community’s existing location so that it is perceived to continue to exist and so residents can actively participate in reconstruction efforts and have a collective voice. It should use neighborhood-like physical organizations -no army camps!- that allow original social connections within the community to persist as a means of social support. And it needs to be functional -people need to work and have access to the normal spectrum of services and amenities in a living community as well as the special services provided for relief. Shops, cafes, community centers, public meeting places should all have their transitional equivalents, even if in more rudimentary forms. Thing is, the reality of transitional housing is that it’s NOT going to be like the original architecture and if residents can’t put up with that difference for the sake of their community’s future, they’ve already declared it a lost cause and might as well just move away. Governments tend to make this worse by bad choices of transitional housing architecture, particularly when they choose things like trailer homes organized into military style camps without adequate infrastructure or the full functional elements of a living community. And when dealing with these medieval communities and the desire to restore original architecture for the sake of tourism, the original architecture is NOT going to be rebuilt quickly. There aren’t any quick and easy substitutes for these early building methods -though you can indeed enhance the traditional construction with some careful use of modern materials and modern engineering methods. So ultimately you have a real test here of the social commitment to these communities. Are these people sufficiently committed to their communities and their relationships to the people around them that they will put up with, let’s say, living in modified shipping container housing for 5 or more years for the sake of fighting for their towns and restoring their original architecture? If not, the towns are already dead.
And I mention ISO shipping container housing here because that’s one of the most likely forms of transitional housing immediately available. Used in clusters, containers make comfortable multi-storey homes and condominiums, can be used for shops, offices, small factories, can link-up into urban complexes, and it can serve as construction shops to aid reconstruction efforts. Most importantly, it’s one form of transitional housing whose production can be geared-up right-away -within weeks- with containerized infrastructure systems such as solar, fuel cel generators, sewerage processing, and telecommunications already available off-the-shelf. There are probably architects in Italy right now planning the use of this in response to this disaster. Other available forms of transitional housing are either undeveloped or limited to single-storey structures. For instance, the aluminum T-slot frame based architecture developed by Jeriko House (http://jerikohouse.com/), iT House, and others would be absolutely ideal in this situation, but right now it’s not ready to go for disaster relief efforts and gearing-up for that would take a couple years at the current scales of these start-up companies.
Right now the shipping containers seem the most practical option based on what could be done within a month of start-up. Europe already has a bunch companies working in this who can divert production to this disaster, such as Erge in Germany. (http://www.erge.de/) They’re not especially imaginative. You would need to pull together many companies products for a whole transitional community ‘package’. But the number of European architects working in this area is huge -maybe in the hundreds. Here are some links for companies and use concepts that come to mind;
(container-lift-transport systems for remote location handling)
(containerized solar power plants)
(containerized fuel cell power plant)
(integrated utilities container – power, water treatment, telecommunications)
(containerized solar timber kiln)
(city center project based on containers)
(container kindergarten in the Netherlands)
(containerized college student housing in Amsterdam)
(shopping center made of containers in Kyrgyzstan)
(portable container shop in Uruguay)
(container based factory complex)
(HP Pod containerized data centers)
(containerized health clinics)
(waste water treatment plant)
(canopy system for container-based industrial buildings)
(container greenhouse in Italy)
(container restaurant in China)
(container apartment complex with integrated vertical hydroponic farm – designed as a permanent building)
My point in offering these examples is to show how much you can do with these structures in terms of providing the full compliment of town/village amenities very quickly, often right off the shelf. You may be thinking; what’s the difference from trailer homes? The answer is that trailer have little use flexibility. With containers you can combine all these elements into multi-storey (up to 10 storeys) neighborhood complexes at the same density of these original medieval villages. And you can provide very comfortable housing on the cheap, even if it looks rather strange. You can also tap into that architectural design community all across Europe and they can work out solutions wherever they are and transport them to where they are needed. And when the reconstruction is complete, it can all go away without leaving a trace, dispersed to relief efforts in other parts of the world.”