The probability of severe property damage and human displacement caused by natural disasters seems to be escalating. Last year was one of the worst on record for natural disaster claims covered by global insurers. And within the past few weeks alone earthquakes of varying intensities struck Japan, Turkey, Chile, Pakistan, and Mexico.
If this catastrophic trend continues, demand for what’s known as immediate-response housing is bound to increase. To address that need, four housing-related companies in 2010 invited eight architects to come up with designs for sustainable and efficient homes that could withstand a host of severe environmental conditions, such as 150-mile-per-hour hurricane winds, 8.0-magnitude earthquakes, wildfires, and floods.
The competition’s architects all worked from the same list of about $100,000 worth of building materials and parts that could be packed into a shipping container for quick delivery.
Last week, a completed 1,050-square-foot house, built from the winning design developed by architects Judith Kinnard and Tiffany Lin, opened for display in New Orleans. The sponsors of this competition intend to eventually build houses from the designs submitted by the other seven contestants, according to Joseph Basilice, president of OceanSafe, a New York-based supplier of steel structural insulated panels (SSIP), which with the education consortium The ReGen Group formed REOSE Sustainable Building Systems, a supplier of sustainable home kits.
Besides OceanSafe and ReGen, the other sponsors of the REOSE Sustainable Design Competition were C&G Construction, a contractor specializing in energy-efficient building; and Woodward Design+Build, the largest design/build contractor in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region. “The Sunshower SSIP model home is a remarkable example of cooperation and advances that have been made in green building,” said Vincent Basilice, OceanSafe’s CEO, in a prepared statement.
“The idea of using a limited list of components and designing to specific sizes and numbers of windows, doors, and panels was intriguing to me,” Kinnard told Builder in an interview on Tuesday. Kinnard, who is also a professor of architecture at Tulane University, added that she was attracted by the prospect that the winning design would actually get built.
Her firm’s design for the Sunshower SSIP House includes a water-collection system that can store up to 1,000 gallons of rainwater in cisterns and plastic “pillows.” In arid climates, the system can be supplemented with an electric unit that can convert humidity in the air into as much as 250 gallons of water per day, explains Basilice.
The Sunshower SSIP model is also made sustainable by solar, geothermal, wind turbine, and back-up battery components that, in Basilice’s estimation, would bring the total construction cost to between $110,000 and $150,000.
Kinnard says that putting up the framing and SIPs for the house she designed could be accomplished “within a matter of weeks.” However, the actual construction of the Sunshower SSIP model was delayed for more than a year. Basilice explains that the massive oil spill caused by the April 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore pumping rig disrupted many of the 60 suppliers that committed to participate in this project. And gathering all of the materials that were donated for the construction didn’t go as smoothly as planned. “Our builder partners didn’t want crews waiting around doing nothing until all of the materials were delivered,” he tells Builder.
Now that the model is completed, Basilice expects representatives from municipalities around the U.S. as well as officials from no fewer than 13 countries—including South Africa, Iraq, Japan, Romania, Haiti, and Italy—to visit and inspect it. (Basilice notes that the sponsors chose vendors for this project based on their ability to ship products internationally.) The Sunshower design is also registered with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration. Kinnard says she’s looking forward to incorporating some of the ideas from her Sunshower SSIP design into other projects her firm works on in the future, in particular using more structural panels.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.