SEED, an emergent housing solution for the Caribbean Region

A Clemson University Architecture project lead by Doug Hecker, Pernille Christensen and Martha Skinner examines the use of shipping containers as housing in disaster situations in the Caribbean Region.

The project , called SEED, was done last year, and it was designed specially for countries facing hurricanes. Nevertheless, the containers can also be used in other tragic circumstances, such as the terrible earthquake in Haiti (which was also featured in the project).

See more about the project, pictures and videos after the break.

Utilizing an existing surplus of shipping containers and working with industry partners including Container -it, Intermodal Steel Building Units Association, Sargent Metals, and Tri-County Technical, designers from the Department of Architecture and the Department of Landscape Architecture are researching and developing an affordable housing solution for the Caribbean Region. Caribbean nations inherently import more goods than they export generating a steady surplus of shipping containers. Shipping containers are designed to carry massive amounts of cargo and withstand extreme weather conditions making them a logical housing component. Completely constructed of steel and reinforced with eight corner post moment connections and corrugated steel walls a 40′ shipping container can carry 67,200 pounds and resist overturn when exposed to winds up to 140 mph. Without modification a 40′ shipping container has 304 square feet of floor space and eliminates problems associated with insects, fire, and hurricanes. With modification a 40′ shipping container can be a safe, comfortable, and environmentally friendly home for numerous local inhabitants who would otherwise have less.

Designing a process and not an outcome the team has decidedly chosen the seed and its symbiotic-propagation as an analog. Thinking time based and considering logistics the beginning design has emerged as a system of event based solutions capable of providing immediate housing after hurricanes or natural disasters. local intervention and materials eventually developing into permanent and investment with a local identity. Utilizing local skills, labor, and materials the final design is dynamic taking on a symbiotic relationship with the local cultures. Eventually the ubiquitous container is embedded and made permanent providing an investment that can appreciate with time.

Cite: Jordana, Sebastian. "SEED, an emergent housing solution for the Caribbean Region" 21 Jan 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • jonny

    Its a very tactful and responsive idea. I agree that something should be done with the millions of unused shipping containers,however, I question whether or not the use of the large steel containers are entirely appropriate. The use of these containers during ‘disaster situations’ suggest that they would only be used temporarily, thus requiring the containers to be air lifted, not only to, but also from the disaster area – a very costly and highly difficult procedure. Why not stick to using tents for ease of erection and dismantling?

    Recycling the material from the containers to make new metal components for prefab housing systems for this region might be a more effective solution.

    People living in the Caribbean imagine living in normal houses just like you and me, not rotting steel shipping containers.

    • Catalina G

      To respond to Jonny’s question (why not just use tents?)

      “….”Tents will not work in May when the long reiny season begins and later the hurricane season starts, but at this point there is not much choice,” said OIM Chief of Mission Vincent Houver.
      “Assessments must take place and best construction methods and durable materials need to be discussed.”

      - BBC article, ‘Haiti to relocate 400,000 outside capital.’

  • comitant

    I agree, tents have been the solution for tens of thousands of years. How many tents and how many containers can a chopper lift in one round?

    If anything, these containers broken down would be a lot more useful as a general building material. Recycle them down instead of airlifting giant boxes in the air. Cargo helicopters cost roughly $2,000 to operate hourly. They look great in renderings but do the math.

    Innovation for these projects would be found in higher grade textiles and self-assembling metal frames….

  • randhir

    I shudder to think how hot it would get inside one of those steel containers. And you cant keep them open either from a security standpoint.

  • Ramdhani

    I think construction costs will be more expensive and higher cargo costs. but this is a good example of design.

  • lobo

    congratulations, let’s export all the problems of the fema city! It is proved that a place like that will destroy communities living there.

  • Dmitry Shapiro

    Great idea! RT @firsten Interesting solution for the housing woes of the Carribean –

  • Pingback: » SEED, una propuesta para reconstruir una ciudad

  • mad architect

    The use of shipping containers as relief housing is nothing uncommon in the Caribbean – ports are often the only point of access after disasters. However I am more concerned with the poor thermal resistance inherent in the basic design of a container. The Caribbean rests between the tropic of cancer and the equator with high temperatures year round, and nothing in the above images show how this is mitigated aside from a few aft placed parasols.

    Not to be overly critical but the heat gain alone would render the containers as presented unusable. This again presents another “knee-jerk” design solution without the necessary research about place and setting – worse when there is a body of information available

  • chas

    I agree with some of the other comments. I think that containers as shelters is a bad idea but using container for other thigns would be good.
    I can imagine prefab medical centers, bath facilities, water treatment centers, communication-computer centers, schools, even restaurants & business’s. those are things that can be prefabed here and then shipped to where they are needed. there are a lot of designs like that which have been proposed for use in Africa which would work in Haiti and other disaster regions.

  • el lara

    sounds like a great idea at the begining….. but…… think about the cost of moving those things….. i mean… maybe for emergency conditions, moving hospitals… some like that sounds great…. but housing i guess is slightly difficult…… great idea…i mean congrats….. but i think its a little too much expensive….. besides…. moving a huge gargo boat and the cranes trailers and helicopters……i mean…. you cant just get those in your back and start walking….

  • Fabiano Meneghetti

    SEED, an emergent housing solution for the Caribbean Region

  • archilocus

    It’s not the first time and probably not the last neither that shipping containers are imagined as emergency housing or even as sedentary housing.
    I wonder why they are therefore in so little cases the support for realistic or concrete projects, and why we do not see those solution more often in the “real life”?
    You’ll probably find the answers in the previous comments.

  • Ed Brophy

    Haiti needs Quonset huts (arch shaped metal buildings) like they used in the Pacific theatre during World War II. Tents are humiliating and imprudent for the weather of Haiti!

    Paste these links in for Pacific Island Quonset huts:

  • Ana

    nice approach!
    just try to leave in the caribbean with a wide open house and youll see…Thats my only critic so try to solve that and it will be perfect.
    And another question will come….how to make secure?
    how it will ventilated? how does all that comes toguether in island wheres the heat can be 32 degrees or more year round, and we are talking about containers???
    well sorry to be so harsh. I live in the caribean …i know.

  • Troublemekka

    It’s too easy to knock other people’s ideas, so it’s great that people are thinking about solutions to natural disaster situations in third world caribbean nations. I I think security needs to be addressed. For example, people in Kingston, JA like to be able to lock up their yards and houses to feel safe. Also, maybe a proposal to strenghten existing structures against the impact of hurricanes needs to be looked at and funded by richer nations or the UN. Poor construction always exacerbates the impact of hurricanes, earthquakes etc. In my opinion, housing like this (which I definitely don’t think should be permanent) would only serve to further draw the distinction between poor and rich and humiliate the poorer communities, but someone should ask them…