9/2/05 Contact: David M. Granger, 334/844-9999 (grangdm@auburn.edu)
Deedie Dowdle, 334/844-9999 (ddowdle@auburn.edu)


AUBURN – Students in Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction have designed innovative, weather-resistant housing units made of shipping containers that could replace tent cities as the housing of choice for victims of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters.

“Normally when we have disasters of Katrina’s magnitude, we see the Federal Emergency Management Agency come in and erect tent cities,” said D.K. Ruth, director of Auburn’s Design/Build graduate program and co-founder and director emeritus of Auburn’s heralded Rural Studio. “Students in our Design/Build program had the idea of using these shipping containers, which exist in abundance, to provide more stable housing for displaced disaster victims.”

Ruth and John Mouton, AU’s Wilborn Chair in Building Science and special advisor to the president, lead eight graduate students in the Design/Build program. The students are Anubhuti Patodi of Hydrabad, India; Kevin Singh of Columbus, Ohio; Hart McGarry of Prattville; Anthony Tindill of Trussville; Christopher Pyron of Loachapoka; David Wurst of Eufaula; Carie Roddy of Auburn; John Gay of Greenville, N.C.; and Michael Grote of El Paso,Texas.

All came to Auburn because of its expertise in Design/Build and its reputation for helping meet needs of underprivileged communities, especially through the Rural Studio.

Grote said a meeting the students had Wednesday night with Mouton, a Louisiana native, led to the idea of using the shipping containers.

“I have to say that this is not a completely original idea,” Grote said. “The idea of using these containers has been kicked around for quite a while now. My Design/Build group’s project was going to integrate them into a house we were designing. We were discussing that project when the disaster hit.

“After we’d all seen how bad things were, we all felt immediately we should develop this idea. And here we are 36 hours later working really hard to get something in front of FEMA.”

According to Ruth, there is a surplus of these containers in the Southeast and throughout the U.S. The containers are typically 8-feet wide, 40-feet long and 9-feet high. They are designed to be weatherproof, withstand harsh environmental conditions and support loads of up to several tons. They are easily stackable for transport.

They are also adaptable. The Design/Build students have already created a model of a unit they estimate can be modified for approximately $2,500 to include natural light and ventilation, a wall air-conditioning unit, ceiling fans, electrical power and storage, including a small refrigerator. They will also be built to accommodate standard FEMA-distributed five-gallon potable water containers.

“You want windows and light, you want to make sure people can get in and out and you want to make it a humane alternative to tents,” said Ruth. “And then we want to find out how to ship them fast. We’re thinking by rail, but that’s part of our project, too. We believe, too, that the units could be reusable for other disasters.

“The things that these units don’t have are restrooms and kitchens, but we understand that FEMA has standard designs for those types of facilities. We will be working with students in our community planning department to see how to best arrange these units around those common facilities.”

Within two weeks, the students will complete two prototypes and will have a third unit in process so people can see how they are constructed.

“We hope to make use of the University’s skilled labor and invite other faculty and students to participate in the construction of these units.

According to Grote, the students’ first priority was to build something that would go beyond just shelter to offer comfort to Katrina’s victims.

“They’ve been through so much misery already,” Grote said. “The tents that you normally see, I think, would not offer real comfort. These units would be off the wet ground, have hardwood floors, air conditioning and would provide protection from mosquitoes and other insects and animals. They would offer more dignity to the folks that have been affected by this. Dignity and hope.”

Auburn is contacting FEMA officials with its proposal.

Ruth, for one, believes in the project and, particularly, in the students who conceived it.

“If this doesn’t happen, it won’t be because of anything these students haven’t done,” Ruth said. “They have creative minds and, most importantly, big hearts.”

Auburn University is a preeminent land-grant and comprehensive research institution with nearly 23,000 students and 6,500 faculty and staff. Ranked among the top 50 public universities nationally, Auburn is Alabama’s largest educational institution, offering more than 230 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs.

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