Prison Alternatives Initiative

by Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR)

Originally launched in 2004 as the Prison Design Boycott, ADPSR’s Prison Alternatives Initiative calls on architects and other design professionals, along with the public to support community-based alternatives to incarceration. Their website communicates the painfully stunning facts and figures associated with U.S. prisons.

ADPSR States:

Our prison system is both a devastating moral blight on our society and an overwhelming economic burden on our tax dollars, taking away much needed resources from schools, health care and affordable housing. The prison system is corrupting our society and making us more threatened, rather than protecting us as its proponents claim. It is a system built on fear, racism, and the exploitation of poverty. Our current prison system has no place in a society that aspires to liberty, justice, and equality for all.

As architects, we are responsible for one of the most expensive parts of the prison system, the construction of new prison buildings. Almost all of us would rather be using our professional skills to design positive social institutions such as universities or playgrounds, but these institutions lack funding because of spending on prisons. If we would rather design schools and community centers, we must stop building prisons. 

Please join members of ADPSR in pledging to not participate in the design, construction, or renovation of prisons. We also invite you to learn more about the prison system, to join us in envisioning more just and productive alternatives to incarceration, and to work towards a society that treats all its members with dignity, equality, and justice.

Related Newscast: A plan to convert a State Prison for Women into one for men, is upsetting people in the neighboring community, who believe they’ve already been left behind…

(So|Aware is not responsible for any advertisements in the video)


SEED: Shipping Container Emergency Housing

by Clemson University Department of Architecture with Tri-County Technical

Utilizing an existing surplus of shipping containers, students from Clemson University’s Department of Architecture partnered with Tri-County Technical College, to research and develop an affordable housing solution for the Caribbean Region. 

Caribbean nations inherently import more goods than they export generating a steady surplus of shipping containers.  Shipping containers are designed to carry massive amounts of cargo and withstand extreme weather conditions making them a logical housing component.  Constructed entirely of steel and reinforced with eight corner post moment connections and corrugated steel walls, a 40 shipping container can carry 67,200 pounds and resist overturn when exposed to winds up to 140 mph.  Without modification a 40 shipping container has 304 square feet of floor space and eliminates problems associated with insects, fire, and hurricanes.  With modification a 40 shipping container can be a safe, comfortable, and environmentally friendly home for numerous local inhabitants.

The beginning design emerged as a system of event based solutions capable of providing immediate housing after hurricanes or natural disasters.  Local interventions and materials eventually develop into permanent additions creating an investment with a local identity.  Utilizing local skills, labor, and materials the final design is dynamic taking on a symbiotic relationship with the local cultures.  Eventually the ubiquitous container is embedded and made permanent providing an investment that can appreciate with time.

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Architecture Humanitarian Emergencies 02

by Jorge Lobos

A few months ago Architecture Humanitarian Emergencies 02 caused a stir across the web. The Leading Architecture websites posted images of the book – leaving many readers to question how they could purchase a copy. Unfortunately, when contacted, the publisher reported that the book is not for sale, and only a few copies were printed for internal use.

With such useful information, it is simply a tragedy that people were unable to read all the content. Luckily for our readers, So|Aware was able to reach out and get direct access to all 122 full-color pages. Enjoy!


Every year humanitarian emergencies endanger more than 200 million people on Earth. This book explains how simple and low cost solutions, in accordance with cultural norms of each country’s project, can help to mitigate global disasters. The goal of the publication is to support the rights of every inhabitant on the planet using accumulated architectural knowledge for the good humankind.


Room Room

by G Studio and Encore Heureux   

Room Room was designed as part of the National Art Museum of China exhibit, Crossing: Dialogues for Emergency Architecture, in 2009. G Studio and Encore Heureux we invited to reflect on the architecture of an emergency in remembrance of the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008.

The designers dwelled upon what people need most in critical moments of existence – when one is homeless and cut-off from from society. They sought to create a companion to accompany the men and women who aid and rebuild after a natural or man-made disaster. The team settled on a design based on the self-built vernacular of nomadic cultures. The final structure is flexible, reversible, lightweight, mobile, inexpensive, yet generous, soothing and protective.


The Cardboard House

by Peter Stutchbury and Richard Smith

The Cardboard House was designed and built for the 2004 House of the Future Exhibition. While this eco-friendly structure is capable of serving many puposes, the most immediate may be disaster relief. Unlike Shigeru Ban’s columned paper tube structures, this house proposes a cardboard structure with interlocking members.

The house was conceived as a kit of parts comprised of frames, infill floor, and wall panels. A series of repetitive frames are spaced and stabilized by a secondary structure similar to the interlocking spacers used in wine boxes. Constrained by cardboard’s tensile limitations, the enclosing walls incline to form an intimate tent-like interior with a tiny sleeping loft tucked into its upper bracing members. The house is wrapped and waterproofed using HDPE plastic, which is also used for the construction of flexible under-floor water tanks as well as the kitchen and bathroom pods. The house is naturally lit with filtered light from above – or generously opened to its surroundings through large pivoting.


With recent reports stating that Sea levels in Northeastern US are rising more than three times faster than the global average, what can be done to save the shoreline communities and cities?

Boston’s Ocean Barrier - Working Together with Water (1988)

by Antonio Di Mambro + Associates

In the span of four centuries Boston increased its land area by a factor of 39, and over the past century the sea level has risen a little over 10 inches. By conservative estimates, it will have risen another 30 inches by 2100. Without immediate intervention the Boston shoreline of 2100 will more closely resemble that of the 1880s.

A relatively modest 12-inch rise in sea level is projected to happen by 2046 and potentially as soon as 2016. To understand the severity of the situation, imagine the devastation and chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina visited upon every coastal community in the United States – property damage would be the least of our problems, the greater being social abandonment, as witnessed in New Orleans.

It is estimated to take a generation (approximately 35 years) to see a major civil project through from inception to completion. Within that span, by 2045, the water level of Boston Harbor will have risen somewhere between 12 and 36 inches. If Bostonians want to preserve their quality of life then they had better act now.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider Antonio Di Mambro’s 1988 scheme for a protective harbor barrier. This concept is as important for establishing the scale and complexity of the response as it is for its physical vision. The multi-layered proposal combines a tidal-surge barrier, reconfigured harbor facility, transit line, highway, reclaimed land, and industrial, commercial, and residential redevelopment. It is an infrastructure that both protects the present and promotes the future.

Do you live on a coastal community or city? What are your communities doing to prepare?


Community Interim Residence (CPR)

by Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects

In September of 2007, the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) launched the competition What If New York City.  The competition was initiated in order to elicit proposals from a wide community of designers in response to a hypothetical category 3 hurricane.

Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects’ proposal, CPR, was amongst the winning submissions which moved on to the second round of feasibility testing. The panels of a typical 650 square foot unit are fabricated from light-weight honeycomb composite resin and are dismantled to fit into six high-impact pods for efficient transport.

The basic unit can be modified to become a studio or larger family unit and can be stacked up to four stories, and is powered by a 4kiloWatt Residential Fuel Cell. CPR proposes a network of national stockpiles that can be mobilized for any location in the US. Localities will have their own CPR fleet ready to be deployed, constructed, deconstructed, and eventually returned.


Sunshower SSIP House

by Judith Kinnard with Tiffany Lin

The apparent increase in natural disasters brought four housing-related companies together to host a competition between eight architects. The challenge: to dream up designs for sustainable and efficient homes that could withstand a host of severe environmental conditions.

The competition’s architects all worked from the same kit of parts (worth about $100,000) and the final design had to break down to fit into a single shipping container for quick delivery after a disaster.

Kinnard and Lin’s collaborative design was selected for construction which recently wrapped up. The Sunshower SSIP model uses only readily available and standard building materials that fit into a single cargo container.  The design also meets all of its energy and water needs even in extreme environments. The 1,050 SF house was put on display and sponsors say they plan to eventually build the other seven submissions.

Watch a news cast about the project here.


Modular School for Burmese Refugees

by Atelier MF in collaboration with Stephen Miles Architects & City Building

“School 4 Burma” was a competition hosted by Building Trust International to design a modular school for refugee and migrant communities on the border of Burma and Thailand. The main design challenge was to enable for deconstruction and reassembly due to restrictions on land ownership and the opportunity to one day move the school back over the border into Burma.

This design, by Atelier MF in collaboration with Stephen Miles Architects & City Building, explores the ideas of approachability and openness as well as enclosure and reinterprets the common vernacular architecture of South East Asia while remaining sympathetic to its tropical surroundings. The scheme proposed a modular timber construction, sheeted with locally produced sheet metals and infilled with bamboo and banana leaf insulation. The form represents continuity giving 360 views and an enclosed garden constitutes a private space of sanctuary for the children.

Related posts: Mobile School for Burmese Refugees by in situ studio with Matt Weiss and David Hill


The Exo

by Reaction Systems

The Exos are base housing units that make up the foundation of the Reaction housing system. They provide private living and sleeping quarters for a family of four within a climate-controlled environment. An Exo is durable enough to be stored on a long-term basis and flat packs for efficient storage and transportation. Electrical power is delivered via a special connector line that powers each unit’s lighting and four wall outlets. The Exo’s design allows for numerous configurations to meet any need or deployment condition.

Each Exo consists of two parts: a base floor plate and an upper shell. The upper shells are made from Tegris™, an incredibly durable composite, an aircraft-grade aluminum super structure, and a rock-solid closed cell foam insulation. Underneath the hardened upper shells, the floor plate’s heavy-duty steel tubing and beautiful birchwood flooring provide a solid, yet extremely portable, foundation for each Exo.

The angled walls are not just for looks. With each wall at a 6º slope, the patented Exos can tightly nest together for super efficient storage and transportation. Roughly 15 to 20 Exo upper shells can fit in the same space as a single shipping container.

Exos are designed to be completely reusable. After each deployment, an Exo is cleaned, packed, and moved back to storage facilities to await its next assignment. When an Exo finally wears out, its eco-friendly design makes it almost completely recyclable.

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