Distributed Manufacturing and Disaster Revovery
Three years ago, New Orleans was hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The population of the Gulf Coast was scattered all over the country because the government was not ready to quickly house the people and rebuild the area's housing stock. In the years since, we have heard of the problems with 'FEMA Trailers' and the environmental hazards the represent. Once people move out of these trailers, where are the trailers to go? Stockpile them for the next emergency?
In the days after Katrina, I remember hearing that there was a sentiment that "Americans don't live in tents". Our people should not have cloth houses for even a while (unless there is hunting involved).
So we have a problem and an opportunity.
The problem is that we have large populations around the world that are located in high density areas, and these areas are subject to a variety of natural disasters. We have heard this year of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires and tornadoes to name a few. Whenever these areas are wiped out, housing needs to be replaced, quickly and safely.
The opportunity lies in how the housing is replaced. What if we had a system to rapidly manufacture housing that is safe, sturdy, attractive and can be used for permanent or temporary use? This housing would not be built using traditional methods developed a hundred years or more ago, it would be an opportunity to reinvent housing design, construction and use.
Distributed manufacturing of architecture
With computer controlled tools like those found in the Fab Lab system and manufactured by ShopBot, we could create a network, locally, nationally and globally to provide good, safe, rapidly assembled housing. There are hundreds or thousands of tools around the United States and world that could be used on relatively short notice.
The parts of the houses could be shipped to a distribution point, then trucked or trained in to the disaster zone. Once on location, the parts, which would have been cut to consistent specifications on similar materials. Obviously, some allowances would have to be made in the design to ensure that the parts would assemble properly. Assembly could occur with relatively simple tools like rubber mallets. The site would need to be prepped, a cement slab or some other foundation.
Each set of parts from a distributed manufacture would have markings that would help with quality control. It would be possible to check the numbers carved into every part and tell which machine it came from, and from there tell which material was used, and other data that the tool owner/operator would keep track of. This would help in the design process by allowing the testing of materials and techniques.
As the crisis is resolved, people in the emergency zone could continue to live in the housing, or they could turn it back for other housing. Since it is possible to build the house entirely with mortise and tenon, pressure fit, tab and slot techniques, the housing could be assembled with little or no hardware fasteners. If there is a surplus of these distributed manufactured housing units, they could be sold, moved or even cut up and chipped. Will it blend? Yes it will. But can we Watch it Shred? Yeah, that too.
In preparation for the next emergency, a number of these housing units could be stored warehouse style, maybe in shipping containers that could be put on trucks or trains. When the next hurricane/tornado/flood/fire/earthquake comes, pop the houses into the transportation system and get people into safe housing quickly. These stockpiled kits would be from manufacturers who had been properly proven as having good quality control, since these would be the first to hit the disaster zone. In days, or maybe even hours, it would be possible to get roofs over the heads of the people who recently lost their houses to mother nature.
This would change the way we make houses. Instead of just making the housing faster, we would be reinventing the system of housing design, manufacture and construction. It would encourage collaboration and open source design. It would release the manufacture of the house from the local area, and support open source manufacturing. It would create a viable solution to the rapid and safe rebuilding of housing in areas where there are vulnerable displaced populations.
Larry Sass of MIT has been working on developing a system very similar to this. His focus is on the building itself. His designs and those like his could form the base of the system. But between where we are now and having trailers loaded and ready to ship to the disaster zone, we would need to have several intermediate projects of lower stakes to prove out the system.
Shopbot Tools - http://www.shopbottools.com/
Blend Tech - http://www.willitblend.com/
SSI - http://www.ssiworld.com/watch/watch-en.htm