Design With Social Purpose

Katrina Cottage by Shawn Lea (Flickr)

Katrina Cottage by Shawn Lea of Everything and Nothing (szlea at Flickr). Image CC2.0 Shawn Lea, January 2006

Flipping through this week’s ENR, I saw a blurb about the "Katrina Cottage." This 300ft² structure, designed by architect Marianne Cusato (article at Dexigner) has one bedroom, living area, kitchen and bathroom. The design is such that the small home can be built quickly and for roughly the same $35,000 as a FEMA supplied mobile home1.

Of course, one immediately realizes that a mobile home can be much larger for that price tag. However, the design requirements for mobile homes are considerably more relaxed than those of fixed-place structures. For example, the hurricane design wind for the Gulf Coast region, according to the 2003 International Building Code (current here in VA,anyway), range from 110mph up to 150mph. According to an old college professor of mine, a mobile home is typically only designed for 70mph, which is the maximum speed it sees on the highway. No, that’s no joke. What’s worse, in case this wasn’t readily apparent to you, wind pressure is a function of velocity squared. That means the mobile homes aren’t designed for at least 50% less force, they’re actually designed for at least 150% less force! Now, I think, you might understand why I think that sacrificing some living space has its advantages over the alternative.

Many designers over the years have shown us that pre-fab needn’t mean poor quality or unsightly. This small structure is a great example of that kind of design philosophy. Note the large windows leading to a front porch with integrated seating. Other photos show a ceiling fan on the porch. The architecture of the building is very reminiscent of Deep South Style, even if we may never see President Bush and Senator Lott sipping ice tea on this porch. Cusato has even considered owners adding on to the structure for a permanent home and has also integrated the ability to repurpose the structure if owners decide to build a separate, permanent dwelling.

Of course, this is a prototype of the structure, so results may vary. Also, I would like to know more about the materials that go into this structure as well as how it will be anchored to a foundation. Those details not withstanding, this is a great example of design benefiting people who usually aren’t afforded that kind of luxury. It is a tragedy that so many people were displaced by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. However, it is fitting that they benefit from mass design and production.

Update (2006-02-03): Here is the website for CusatoCoggages, including how to go about ordering one as well as more photos.

  1. As reported last week in the Orlando Sentinel. []