New Container House Prototype for Haiti


Of the temporary and permanent housing solutions envisioned for Haiti, there's everything but a shortage.  On this site alone, we've supported Shelter Box and mentioned efforts by House Arc and Andrés Duany.  Another effort that recently caught our attention is this Shipping Container Housing project to rapidly fabricate temporary relief housing out of 20 foot used containers.  


Shipping Container Housing wants to send a prototype to Haiti by early March and is raising $6,500 in donations to get it built. 

In terms of construction, the house will have a 500-gallon rooftop cistern for rainwater harvesting and a butterfly roof to deflect the weather and hold solar panels, according to The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.  The unit will have a passive solar design and rest on four adjustable piers. 

Houses will be filled with food and medical supplies after assembly and shipped to Haiti.  Pb Elemental Architecture is donating architectural services, while Method Homes will be one of the manufacturing partners. 

[+] Learn how to support SCH for Haiti.




Rendering credits: Shipping Container Housing.

  • meliason

    Some good critques towards Pb’s design in the comments, especially with regards to the weight of the water…

    Did they really ask people to donate to their project before announcing they were working on it?

  • Pb elemental

    Hi Meliason. We announced that we had formed a non-profit along with various partners throughout the country when we created the facebook page before the website was created. The paroject involves over twenty individuals all donating 100% of their labor to creat a housing prototype. All labor is donated and most of the materials are being donated. We have formed an agreement with Mercy Corps that if we raise more than our estimated cost everything goes towards their relief effort. Shipping Container Housing is not suggesting it has the perfect solution, instead we are attempting to act, and act now. Three of the members involved have lived in containers (with roof cisterns) in Chile, Jamaica and Australia respectively, all in extreme climates. We all appreciate everyones feedback, but would encourage offers of possiable solutions rather than discounting a positive attempt. Bottomline is we are notorious for acting slowly. Haiti needs assistance now in thousands of ways. We are offering one form and a very small one at that but we all are putting our efforts to trying to help.

    • Anonymous

      Congratulations! But don’t just look at container housing as temporary housing. Rather as permanent housing. We have proved that there is no down side to container housing if done the right way. Just imagine if everyone in Haiti had been living in container based houses, how many less people would have lost their lives. We exhibited our container based house the SMALLisSMART HOUSE at Australia’s premier design expo DESIGNEX . The response was super positive with very many not realizing they were in a container at all. We have many models including a 32 container house and 6 unit bed and breakfast to be built in Orlando… and it will be luxury, as is our DARE house for the TV show GRAND DESIGNS. All on our website We would be very happy to assist and participate!

  • Gene

    # 1 problem is that fabrication should be done in Haiti!
    I suggest it is silly and selfish to not do so.

    The appropriate fabrication technology is readily available and the skills relatively easy to teach (if necessary).

    Since Haiti is on an island, there are a lot of empty containers there already – especially since exports are, obviously, down. It would make sense for shipping lines to donate (or discount) containers already on the ground in Haiti. Seems like there are many opportunities for in-kind value or future benefit to shippers. If fabrication becomes a local industry in Haiti, all the better.

  • Anonymous


    It’s seems a bit of a farce to suggest a 20-foot metal box, for $6,500, is a serious housing solution for a nation whose AVERAGE per-capita income is only a fifth of that — $1,300 a year (the poor being “helped” often have an annual income under $500).

    Put another way, the cost of this box could put a dozen Haitian carpenters or masons to work for at least 3-4 months. In that time frame, don’t you think they could produce a lot more housing than one metal box?

    A usable second-hand travel trailer, insulated, plumbed, lighted, furnished, and equipped luxuriously (by Haitian standards, if not also by American standards), can be had for under $5,000, and shored up cheaply with rock-and-masonry foundation and walls (which also have “cooling” thermal mass). Flimsy flooring could be improved to near-permanence with less than a few hundred dollars worth of treated plywood and tile.


    This structure also plans to perch a box, holding 4 tons water, over the heads of the structure’s occupants — and then assume, blithely, that nothing will go wrong with this — in a muggy, high-humidity environment in which everything rusts, rapidly, and where there is no money for maintenance. The resulting top-heavy structure is expected to remain stable in future tremors, while perched on 4 spindly legs, in the heavy mud filling the refugee camps (from all the rains). What will a typical Haitian mudslide or flash flood do to this top-heavy thing?


    Finally, in a land that endures tropical monsoons and has been ravaged by several hurricanes in the last few years — one wonders, seriously, how long this “butterfly roof to deflect the weather, and hold solar panels,” would last. That is assuming, of course, that the panels (and even the roof) will still be there when the storms (starting next month) start raking the island (“hurricane season” starts two months later).

    After all, in a land where the average refugee’s total annual earnings probably don’t equal the value of the solar panels, what makes you think they’ll still be there when rains come? A family would dare not leave the structure for more than a few hours, lest they return to find the solarl panels, gone — and even the supporting panels, themselves, gone, in a land where building materials are in desperately short supply.

    And with my limited (but substantial) understanding of engineering and aerodynamics, I doubt that roof (as depicted) would withstand sustained hurricane winds — which are all-too-common throughout Haiti, at least once or twice, nearly every year.


    I do think there’s room to be quite serious about surplus shipping containers as refugee housing — especially with the U.S. trade imbalance piling them up on our shores by the thousands. But not the model depicted and described, at the cost indicated.

    I’m always amazed at the “solutions” that upper-middle-class college-educated white Americans come up with to solve the world’s problems, as if everyone lived in the same geographic, social and economic climate as them.

    Some of these guys ought to rent a travel trailer, and try pitching it on a rain-washed rocky slope, and living in it, in severely stormy weather, for a week — in the middle of an impoverished inner-city slum. It would be a very healthy reality check for all concerned — if they can survive it. Then they can go back to the drawing board with just a HINT of what Haiti really needs.


    In the meantime, while the western world fantasizes about prototypes and micro-shipments of idealized “solutions” to Haiti’s post-quake housing crisis, over 1,000,000 displaced Haitians are facing arriving rains with only tarps (the lucky ones) — and a handful of flimsy tents (many not even weatherproof) housing less than 5% of the refugees.

    A more immediate and complete solution is needed, NOW, to prevent increased deaths from exposure, the spread of disease, and violence — which are all on the rise in the filthly crowded refugee warrens (no one seriously calls them camps) across southern Haiti. (For background on the reality, see )

    College boys, shelve your project (which won’t save enough lives anytime in the forseeable future) and start putting your energy into finding an emergency solution that will save lives, by the thousands, immediately. (For one idea, see: “Lemonade from Lemons: Sheltering Haitians with Rubble” among the Haiti crisis stories at )

    The fantasy stuff has to wait. (You should have seen this need coming years ago, and prepared for it then, without it taking such an event actually happening to get your attention, and get you moving.) This is way too little, way too late. It cannot begin to significantly impact the refugee crisis immediately threatening the lives of 1,200,000 displaced Haitian quake victims. It is a cute sideshow, but an deceptive distraction — that draws attention and support away from the urgently needed, more-substantial efforts.

    This is no longer an academic or professional long-term-planning, magical, pie-in-the-sky issue. It’s an immediate matter of life and death for thousands, dying right now. Please, switch your mental gears from Fantasy Island to dying Haiti, and come up with something real, for 1,000,000 real people, really possible, real quick. The rains have begun.

    • Anonymous

      A ship load of a thousand containers and a fleet of sideloader transporters could make a substantial dent in the need for weather protection for 5000 people. Is that so bad? At least they will be protected from the rain, they can collect rainwater without the butterfly roofs that I agree are likely to blow away. And as they live in them, they can fit them out into very comfortable homes. I know because I have done it!

      • rh1

        OK, engineers, for Heaven’s sake, just do the math.

        At $6,500 each, just 10 of these containers would pay for 1,000 weatherproof tents (at U.S. wholesale prices) — sheltering those 5,000 (still less than one-half of one percent of the homeless in Haiti).

        If the entire shipload of containers was provided, shipped, delivered and installed at a cost of only $650 each (one-tenth the cost of the prototype) — that would still be an expenditure of $3,250,000 — enough to buy a tarp for everyone in the quake region, rather than — again, sheltering only one-half of one percent.

        If real shelter, for a minority of the population, were the objective, that would call for spending the money on tents — at $65 U.S. wholesale for a tent sleeping 5, providing 10 tents, sleeping a total of 50 refugees, in place of every container. At 1000 shipborne containers being replaced by 10 tents each, that provides 10,000 tents sheltering about 50,000 people.

        The math that the aid agencies on the ground are now using is to focus on simply getting rain-repellent tarps to shelter the million homeless. At my guesstimate of a US wholesale price of about $13 a tarp (now being distributed with tent poles and rope), each $650 container setup would buy 50 tarps. Assuming each tarp will shelter only THREE people, that’s still 150 people sheltered by tarps, in place of each container. Multiply that by your 1,000 containers, and you have 150,000 people under tarps — miserable, utterly inadequate, but much better than nothing.

        In all then, using this fairly reasonable math, you have these options, for the same amounts of money:

        Shelter one-half of one percent of Haiti’s quake-homeless
        with containers — and leave 99.5% unprotected in the storms.
        — OR —
        Shelter about 5% of Haiti’s quake-homeless with tents — and leave 95% unprotected in the storms.
        — OR —
        Shelter about 15% of Haiti’s quake-homeless with tarps — and leave 85% unprotected in the storms.

        To put it another way, you can, for the same money necessary for your 1,000-container demonstration project, at just $650 per container, you can:

        Shelter 150,000 people under tarps.
        — OR —
        Shelter 50,000 in tents — leaving 100,000 out in the rain, unprotected.
        — OR —
        Shelter 5,000 in containers — leaving 145,000 out in the rain, unprotected.

        I commend the notion of trying to find constructive uses for surplus containers, and to apply them to where they are needed most. But it’s terribly important to keep in mind real limits.

        Right now, the reason for not distributing enough tents — apart from cost and logistical nightmares (that would be far worse with containers) — there is the simple fact that there is no place to put the tents. There isn’t enough land available for refugee camps. Feudal-culture Haiti’s 11 ruling-class, landholding families, who run the government and own most of the land in the capital area, won’t give up enough land to allow for tent cities, let alone container cities (that would probably require double the land area).

        Perhaps a better use of all this architectural and engineering brainpower would be to develop some kind of cheap-and-quick mass-shelter, that can provide adequate shelter from rain and storms, and tolerable temporary living space, for people at very high population densities, greater even than supported by tents, let alone containers — and come up with a workable solution before the hurricanes arrive late this spring.

        It’s fun to play “what if” games, and tinker with innovative projects in liesure times. But in times of catastrophic emergency, it’s time to get down to reality, and deal with it — not waste time on frivolous efforts that offer, at best, a trivial and distracting sideshow to the worst human calamity in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

        Grow up, sober up, get down to work — and come up with real solutions for the real world now. Don’t tinker in your basement on a “better” fire-extinguisher while your neighbor’s house burns down. When you’ve solved this important, urgent, immediately life-threatening problem, then — and only then — it’s time to toy around with “better” long-term options. First things FIRST.

        • rh1

          OK, in that last comment, I started off stupidly with a gross miscalculation (but rest of the seems right, i think). I said:

          “…that would still be an expenditure of $3,250,000 — enough to buy a tarp for everyone in the quake region, rather than — again, sheltering only one-half of one percent.”

          I accidentally based this on multiplying my guess at unit-price for the containers ($650) x the “5,000” number in gfulton’s remarks. That was his number of sheltered people, not container shelters. He described only 1,000 container shelters (on a ship). My subsequent calculations, in the rest of my comments, are based on that 1,000-containers number.

          Also, my initial shoot-from-hip remark was based on the assumption of a wholesale cost of $5 a tarp. I later cited a more realistic $13 a tarp (with poles and cord), as being currently distributed in the area.

          As a result, the grossly-erroneous remark quoted above (from my third paragraph), should have read:

          “…that would still be an expenditure of $650,000 — enough to buy 50,000 tarps sheltering about 150,000 homeless in the quake region (about 15% of them) — rather than, again, sheltering only one-half of one percent.”

          After that gross error, though, I believe the rest of the numbers in my hold up pretty well. No matter how you calculate though, focusing on containers as a solution right now, for Haiti, leaves far too many people (the vast majority) standing out in the rainstorms with absolutely nothing — including the vast majority of the people who could be helped if the money requested for containers was used more efficiently.

        • Anonymous

          So, what is your contribution other than to criticize the sound and considered efforts of others. Everyone knows that tents or tent type cover is needed for everyone now. WE can’t improve on that, and nor can you. Our interest is long term. From all our research there is nothing that can compete with shipping containers for economical accommodation that is safe from earthquake, cyclone, fire and even tsunami! The only other possibility is for a vehicle sheet metal stamping facility to be converted to stamp wall panels for a modular construction system. But that needs very large (car number) volumes. There is enough numbers needed in Haiti, but can’t see anyone keen enough to take on the investment!

    • Tim

      To Mr. RH1
      Check out this to see how amazing Container Homes can be. In the next ten years you will see these pop up everywhere. Just because you do not know about it doesn’t mean its wrong. And the comment about the finances is silly because everyone knows homes cost years to pay off not months!

      Do some real study before flapping your jaws.


  • Anonymous

    It seems like some of the comments are a little harsh, mostly from rh1. Though some are valid points, some are not. I have been to Haiti several times, the most recent leaving the US a day after the quake and spending 8 days there. I don’t think it is possible for anyone in the US or other developed countries to understand the hardship this country is facing without seeing it first hand. We (the US) tend to wait for the perfect answer to an impossible question and then act. This should not be the case, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. Yes, maybe the water tank is not in the perfect place, but they have no water there. So, in my mind it is better to have water in not so perfect location than to have no water at all. Yes, maybe the roof will get ripped off in hurricane winds. These people are desperate, they will do and use whatever they can to get that water source back up again. Yes, they should make them there in Haiti, its cheaper and provides jobs. Yes, $6k is too much, but you always pay more for the first one (kind of like a plasma tv when they were new). The make lemonade with lemons (or whatever it was called), is a good idea, but containers are sustainable long term. I would rather be in a container in an earthquake any day than have a mound of rocks all around me (I have been in 6. earthquake in Haiti and it is not fun). Lastly, the rules of life are different there, don’t try to apply US (or developed countries) safety and living conditions down there or nothing will ever happen. It can happen over time, but not yet. With all said, challenging other to achieve their highest potential is always a good thing as long as it is productive.

  • julio

    hi, nice project. I made some 3ds for haiti too using the containers. you can look in my blog

    best regards

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