Harvard Graduate School of Design
STU 1221:Elements of Urban Design
Instructors: Peter Rowe, Rahul Mehrotra, Michael Manfredi, Alex Yuen
Cities across the globe continue to struggle with how to adapt to the rapid increases in sea level rise. This becomes an even more pressing issue considering that 600 million people live in low-elevation coastal zones at risk of sea level rise. This issue has become further aggravated by climate change and is resulting in the fortification of the waterfront in developed countries and managed retreats in developing countries. In addition to this, the construction industry contributes to 40% of carbon emissions worldwide. This, combined with the lack of available, affordable housing, particularly in coastal areas, would require 96,000 new affordable units every day to keep up with the demand. As we look at these pressing issues, how do we begin to develop a framework for coastal development which provides flexibility to adapt to sea level rise while providing a low carbon-intensive solution for cities and countries to build affordable housing where it is needed the most.
In our proposal Bon Voyage we propose a new way to look at coastal development, re-using Panamax cargo ships which are the most common cargo ship used globally. As of 2021, there were 5,600 container ships being used to transport goods across the world. The dismantling of these ships is extremely dangerous, with 426 job-related death, which doesn’t even include the 1 in 7 workers who get cancer working in these unsafe conditions without adequate protective gear. Each year 15% of the 5,600 seaworthy ships are sent to the scrapyard, with 90% of the gross tonnage being dismantled in South Asia. These 65,000-ton ships cost $200 million to construct. Their salvage value at the end of their life equates to 10% of the purchase price, which roughly equates to the value of the steel used in their construction.
At the end of their life container ships are sent to scrap yards not due to issues with the integrity of the ship but are mainly sent to salvage yards because the engine needs to be replaced or the electronics need to be updated. The design of the ships follows three main criteria, redundancy, flexibility, and efficiency. These design criteria make the adaptive reuse of container ships perfect candidates for affordable housing. The hull of the ship becomes essentially the shell of a 400-unit courtyard apartment building with ground-floor retail with four stories of residential on top and two levels of subterranean parking.