When it comes to disaster relief, University of Toronto master of architecture student Michael Donaldson is thinking inside the box. Donaldson’s thesis project, completed on Jan. 8, lays out the concept for a deployable architectural system, including field hospitals, workshops and shelters, which uses common shipping containers as standard modular units.
“I was looking at something that can help with the re-building of social infrastructure such as hospitals and schools after war or disaster,” says Donaldson. “There needs to be something that takes over after disaster response teams such as the UN or military leave – which is typically about 30 days.”
As illustrated in Donaldson’s thesis, teams of specially trained architects, engineers and skilled trades people would work closely with Canadian and international armed forces and aid agencies in re-building damaged infrastructure. He has detailed schools, workshops, barracks, security units and even offices, all packed into the ubiquitous 20-foot-equivalent containers. For instance, a fully functioning field hospital, including diesel generator, could be packed into six containers, which could be shipped via freighter, truck or rail to arrive at any location in the world within 30 days. The containers themselves would be used as structural elements, whether attached to remnants of existing buildings or forming perimeter walls that could provide security while re-building took place. An inflatable, insulated roof membrane would provide weather-proof shelter.
“When disaster strikes, there is a huge gap left by the professional class,” says Donaldson. “In researching the project, I was struck that there is no organization or aid agency that helps re-build cities. In Canada, we export that knowledge commercially all the time. I figure with this system, a 300-unit deployment, which is half a small cargo ship, would be able to build 20 or 30 new buildings at once and local people can work interactively with the experts.”