Shipping Container Living Looks Pretty Nice: Inside NYC’s Secret Disaster Apartments

  • In this week’s Observer we go inside City Hall’s quiet program to create a new disaster housing model to house New Yorkers displaced by the next superstorm or some other unforeseen catastrophe. Because of New York’s dense urban environment, any disaster housing would have to be big, in order to accommodate lots of residents, but also compact, since there is not much room to build these things.

    The city has so far hit upon the novel idea of using shipping containers to house the displaced, stacking prefabricated modules one on top of another. It is an innovative model the likes of which are untested worldwide, but already one company has built a prototype in South Jersey, and the city is prepared to test out some version of it as early as next year. So please, step inside what could be your apartment for a year or two after the next big one hits.

  • A happy waterfront neighborhood, somewhere in the five boroughs, battens down the hatches as a storm approaches.

  • The power storm knocks out hundreds of apartments, so out rolls the city's new disaster housing units.

  • A crane hoists the units, four containers high and ten wide, into place, creating an impromptu apartment block.

  • By letting people move back into their neighborhood quickly, it allows for a faster rebuilding of the neighborhood.

  • Sea Box, a South Jersey shipping container modifier, has already created a prototype it hopes the city might deploy in a test run next year.

  • Inside, the space looks mighty nice, though this is a model unit, and city officials expect their version will be more stripped down.

  • Still, it will be comfortable—people could be living in these units for a year or two as their homes are rebuilt.

  • It even comes stocked with all the necessities, like sheets and towels, even an iron.

  • Notice the Picasso poster in the bathroom. It's the little things that count.

  • There would need to be easy egress, to protect against fires and the like.

  • The project could be built as a slab.

  • But in the ideal arrangement, the city would find a lot that measured 100 feet by 100 feet, so it could create a true apartment block, housing more people at once, creating greater density—and community.