Launch Slideshow

project: upwardly mobile

project: upwardly mobile

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    Michael A. Berk, Mississippi State University

    The GreenMobile factory-built house is a self-sustaining model for emergency or affordable housing. Designed by architecture professor Michael A. Berk, the green home uses natural systems and local building materials to help keep shipping costs down.

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    Michael A. Berk, Mississippi State University

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    Michael A. Berk, Mississippi State University

After working in private practice for nine years, architect Michael A. Berk shifted gears in 1990 to become a professor and researcher. His new pursuit ultimately led him to explore affordable and ecologically based factory-built housing in the rural Southeast and Delta regions, where the dynamics of poverty differ from those seen in urban centers. “In the Delta, most people still own acres of land, but they may be poor,” says Berk, a professor and senior faculty member in the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University. “I'm trying to propose a sustainable alternative to the [mobile home].” But when Katrina hit, Berk saw another need: disaster relief and emergency housing.

Using his research findings, Berk designed GreenMobile, a housing model he believes could serve as a viable alternative to emergency travel trailers and mobile homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agrees with him: Last December, the agency awarded the GreenMobile project up to $5.9 million in funding in the nationally juried Alternative Housing Pilot Program for disaster-relief housing on the Gulf Coast.

Based on the economy of the single-wide mobile home, GreenMobile consists of a prefab base unit onto which pods can be added on site. “It's a hybrid building that mixes a single-wide and a modular house,” Berk says. The models, destined for use as FEMA housing, come in two versions: an 890-square-foot two-bedroom unit and a 560-square-foot one-bedroom unit.

Berk designed the buildings for off-the-grid sustainability—with solar panels and water-collection systems—so they can function in areas with no utilities. Made with structural insulated panels, GreenMobile will also capitalize on passive solar orientation and natural ventilation. Ideally, the structures would be constructed of natural materials sourced from local vendors and would come with a kit for planting deciduous shade trees to moderate the Mississippi Delta swelter.

One of the ancillary benefits of GreenMobile, Berk says, is that it's a multipurpose model: “It could stand alone as emergency housing, but then it could have a life after,” he says. It could be used as affordable housing for the underserved, he adds, and “it would be better-looking than a single-wide.”

Although cost has not been finalized, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency aims to produce 100 of the small units for $50,000 each. It hopes to pin down the design and engineering details soon and would begin construction shortly thereafter.


rethinking, renewing, rebuilding

special report on rebuilding the gulf coast two years after katrina's devastation.

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    In this report, we've endeavored to illuminate the good and the bad, the true signs of hope and the harsh realities of its absence. Over and over, Gulf Coast architects emphasize that people around the country need to know what's really going on in this still-devastated but still-compelling area.

     
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    When people talk about good things happening in downtown New Orleans, the name Marcel Wisznia, AIA, tends to come up. That's because this local architect/developer has completed one of the few projects built there since Hurricane Katrina—The Union Lofts, a mixed-use renovation in the Central...

     
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    In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans architect Wayne Troyer, AIA, bounced between friends' houses in Alabama and Louisiana. All the while, he frantically awaited the latest news of his home city. “I e-mailed like crazy ... we were all trying to regain our sanity,” he recalls. When he...

     
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    Byron Mouton, AIA, never intended to stay in his hometown of New Orleans. He left for graduate school at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., then worked in Europe for a couple of years. On his way to San Francisco for a job interview in 1997, he stopped to see his family in the Crescent City and stayed...