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. []