New York City declared a mandatory evacuation for about 370,000 residents: almost 5% of its total population. Yet it provided accommodations for only 70,000, and beds for even fewer. Irene came and went without the predicted Armageddon scenario but the question that hung unanswered throughout was, Where were all these people supposed to go? And if the damage had been extensive, or if a category 2 or 3 hurricane decided to hit Gotham, what then? If thousands of people were unable to return home after more than a weekend, would the sofa-beds of friends and family be announced as the OEM’s mid- to long-term housing solution?

Back in 2008 the city’s Office of Emergency Management gave this shortcoming some thought and issued a request for proposals soliciting temporary housing solutions. The resulting designs have yet to be built or tested. One solution that is readily deployable simply inserts pre-manufactured, stockpiled FEMA trailers into mid- and high-rise buildings that are currently in construction throughout the city.

In fact, the federal government has in place a strategy for deploying trailer homes to areas devastated by natural disasters. These units (FEMA trailers) are used in large part because of their availability and adaptability. Clearly the main constraint in applying this strategy to an urban environment such as New York City is lack of space. By definition empty lots are not common in the city’s most densely inhabited neighborhoods. As well, to get the kind of density necessary to re-house the average New York City neighborhood (without relocating families to the far extremities of the city) it seems a multi-story solution is necessary.

The Freedom Tower presents an obvious opportunity in such a case. Midway through construction, the building is replete with multiple cranes for hoisting the trailers in to place, elevators, and utilities. Trailers provide four-season weather protection and comfort. Each unit has individual climate controls as well as spectacular views and abundant fresh air, as quality of life must be a key concern. Residents would remain for as long as it takes to rebuild those areas affected by disaster.

In the image above, you can see a mock-up of what this would look like. The images that follow are more detailed looks at the design. They are culled from the official website for this project, which can be found at fematower.com.

(Designs by Babak Bryan and Jake LaChapelle)

Tags: hurricane-irene, fema-tower, new-york
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