Containers have many characteristics that make them ideal construction material. They are prefabricated, mass-produced, cheap and mobile. They are easily accessible all around the world. Shipping containers are strong and resistant to weather and outside elements. And finally they are recyclable, reusable, and provide superb ease of design and construction.
The design of the containers used for emergency shelter isn’t much different than that for housing purpose. However, many concepts used in the modifications of shipping containers to convert them into affordable housing could very well be applied to emergency housing. A functional design is the most important aspect of the project. Without a functional design, a container cannot be made habitable, either for regular housing or emergency sheltering purposes.
The site preparation phase makes the site suitable to host the containers. Although the specific site characteristics will vary according to its location, the basic processes for site preparation will remain the same, which includes clearing, grubbing, and grading of the site, followed by installation of water, waste, power, and water supply lines depending upon requirement.
Local building regulations must be checked and kept in mind before beginning of the project. All necessary permits should be obtained beforehand. Also, remember that even though the shipping containers are made to withstand enormous weights (due to stacking of filled containers), the strength is attributed to four steel columns on the corners. Therefore, necessary adjustments are made to strengthen the roof to bear the weight of earth above it.
A shipping container shelter provides a closed environment that will keep rain and other disastrous environmental or man-made conditions out. However the containers themselves are not set up for any sort of temperature control. Therefore, modifications are necessary for the inclusion of insulation and heating and/or cooling systems. Although protection from the elements has to be maintained, people still need access to natural light and fresh air. Windows and doors can be added to the containers in order to have a steady supply of fresh air.
With those two aspects of the project in mind, there are four other functions that the containers must be able to provide: living areas, bathroom facilities, dining area, and kitchen area. In addition to beds, the living area should have space for people to store their clothes and other necessary personal items in case of emergency. The bathroom facility obviously needs toilets, sinks, and showers. Areas for dining and preparing food must be included somewhere in the layout of the site to allow habitation for longer periods of time.
One of the most important aspects of providing livable conditions for people living in the emergency container shelter is power supply. People inhabiting the emergency shelters for a longer period of time will need services that only electrical appliances can provide safely, such as lighting and temperature control.
Although the usage of shipping containers for low income and sustainable housing design has been explored across the globe, the potential application of containers as underground shelter has not been thoroughly considered. Shipping container architecture presents many stimulating challenges to certain disciplines of engineering including civil engineering, construction management, and modern architecture.