Prefab Modular Emergency Housing, NYC, USA

Floor plans
About Garrison Architects
About Mark Line Industries
About NYC Emergency Management
About American Manufactured Structures and Services (AMSS)

Design Garrison Architects
Deploy time 15 hours
Location NYC
Year 2015

Description by architects

Developed for the New York City Office of Emergency Management, Garrison Architects was hired by American Manufactured Structures and Services (AMSS) to design amodular post-disaster housing prototype for displaced city residents in the event of a catastrophic natural or manmade disaster. The multi-story, multi-family units can be deployed in less than 15 hours, in various arrangements calibrated for challenging urbanconditions.

This prototype is preceded by more than 6 years of research by the City of New York into emergency housing,” says James Garrison, Principal of Garrison Architects. “Aside from the basics of providing shelter after a disaster, the prototype is innovative because it allows residents to remain within their communities instead of being displaced for months, or even years. “Shelter in place” allows residents to maintain their support networks - their friends and their families. Keeping neighborhoods intact is crucial for successful rebuilding.”

The aim is to create a blueprint for post-disaster housing by utilizing the latest construction technology in conjunction with stringent requirements for safety, sustainability, durability, and universal design. The modules are infinitely flexible: they can be deployed in vacant lots, private yards, or public spaces. When needed, the modules are trucked to a site, craned into place, and plugged into utilities.

“The beauty of the units lies in their inherent flexibility. They can be stacked like legos to create row housing, or they can be interspersed between existing homes and structures,” says Garrison. “These modules aren’t just for New York City - they were designed to meet the strictest zoning requirements in the US, meaning they can be quickly deployed to any corner of the country.”

For the prototype, a total of 5 modules were fabricated in Indiana by Mark Line Industries. They were then trucked to NYC and installed onsite by American Manufactured Structures and Services, general contractor for the project.

With 1- and 3-bedroom configurations, every unit features a living area, bathroom, fully equipped kitchen and storage space. Units are built with completely recyclable materials, cork floors, zero formaldehyde, a double-insulated shell, and floor-to-ceiling balcony entry doors with integrated shading to lower solar-heat gain, provide larger windows, and add more habitable space. Units can be equipped with photovoltaic panels, which will not only alleviate pressure on the city grid, but also ensure the units are self-sustaining.

The prototype will remain on the corner of Cadman Plaza East and Red Cross Place for one to two years, undergoing occupancy tests by NYU Poly and Pratt. Guests will be invited to live in the units for 5-day intervals to fully explore their functionality. Jim Garrison continues: “We spent months honing all of the technical details for the prototype. Now it is time to investigate the intricate details of living in the units full time.” 2015

Description by The New York Times

Stainless-steel appliances. Cabinetry hand-built by Amish artisans. A shower flush with the floor — both sleek and accessible. And gorgeous sunsets from a private balcony overlooking Cadman Plaza and the Manhattan Bridge.

This is not some new luxury development on the border of Brooklyn Heights. From the outside, at least, those passing by on the ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge might even mistake it for a set of buff shipping containers. Yet they could come to count on this home in a box.

In the event of a disaster, New York City wants to deploy these modular stackable apartment pods as temporary homes.

Not that they look or feel terribly temporary.

“Almost everyone tells us these are nicer than their own apartments,” James McConnell, the assistant commissioner for strategic data at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said during a tour last week.

That includes this reporter, who had the fortune of spending the night by choice, rather than necessity. When the next “big one” hits, thousands could find themselves relying on these pods — and they may find they prefer them to home.

For the past eight years, long before Hurricane Sandy did more than $70 billion in damage to the region, the city has been diligently developing what it calls urban post-disaster housing, with financing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Though still in the prototype phase, the hope is that it could someday shelter residents for months, or even years, as they await reconstruction of their homes.

Think of it as a Lego version of the FEMA trailer, designed for a city of rowhouses and apartment towers, where people are in abundance and space is not.

“Our needs are so different from the rest of the country, so we need temporary housing that is different from the rest of the country,” said Mr. McConnell, who has overseen the pod project since it began in 2007.

After Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans in 2005, New York City officials became troubled by the temporary-turned-permanent exodus from many New Orleans neighborhoods. With nowhere appealing to live while people waited to rebuild, many simply stayed in Houston or Atlanta, a prospect that troubled the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

It was a challenge of both scale and speed as big as the storms necessitating it. “You could need thousands of these things in a matter of weeks,” said David Burney, a former commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction who is now a professor at the Pratt Institute

Besides having a history of problems like formaldehyde contamination, the trailers favored by FEMA are ill suited to a dense urban environment like New York. With the need to house thousands of families after a disaster — as indeed happened after Hurricane Sandy — there is hardly room for a huge trailer park.

To solve that problem, the city started a design competition, and after selecting 10 finalists in 2008, it commissioned a pilot project that would actually be built in the city. It took six more years, and one hurricane, before the project was funded and built in Brooklyn. The pilot cost $1.7 million, with about 70 percent paid for by the federal agency.

By spring 2014, trucks rolled up to Cadman Plaza East and unloaded five prefab apartment pods that had been made at a factory in Indiana. The first two floors consist of two prefab pods each, bolted together into three-bedroom apartments, while a single pod rests on the third floor, forming a one-bedroom.

The theory is that the next time Red Hook or Sheepshead Bay is flooded and properties are destroyed, pods could be deployed in the parking lot of Ikea or Fairway, for example; grafted onto the side of existing New York City Housing Authority properties; or possibly even floated on barges.

“It’s hard to know the landscape after a disaster,” said Cynthia Barton, housing recovery program manager at the Office of Emergency Management. “That’s why simplicity and flexibility is key.”

Able to reach four stories, the design of the units avoids the need for elevators and complies with the city’s building code. The units also incorporate so-called universal design, with wide passages, tables and countertops that can accommodate wheelchairs, even in bathrooms.

“They’re kind of wonderful, really, especially for something that is meant to be temporary,” said Michaela Metcalfe, the director of the Design and Construction Excellence program at the Department of Design and Construction.

Ms. Metcalfe is one of the 46 city employees (along with Ms. Barton and Mr. McConnell) who have spent a week with their families living in the pods, testing them out. She was eight months pregnant during her stay in May and said she found the layout surprisingly accommodating.

As did this reporter and his wife last week, during an overnight stay in the third-floor unit. The space was light and airy, with a full kitchen that made cooking breakfast a breeze. Bagels had to be griddled on the stove because there was no toaster, but this being Brooklyn, there was a French press for coffee. And that spacious shower had better water pressure than my own.

The city’s pilot program will run through next November, at which point officials hope FEMA might redeploy it at the agency’s own testing ground in Maryland.

A spokeswoman for the agency, Susan Hendrick, declined to discuss the specifics of the city’s program but praised the idea behind it.

“Projects like these are important because they look at ways of leveraging the capacity of the manufactured housing industry to get survivors out of emergency shelters, help them recover where they already live and revive neighborhoods faster after a disaster,” Ms. Hendrick wrote in an email.

Should FEMA endorse the blueprints, the prefab pods could be installed anywhere, whether after another New York storm, or a wildfire in Los Angeles or an earthquake in San Francisco. Modular-home builders throughout the country would be on call to ramp up production and deploy thousands of units within a matter of weeks. Single prefab units could even be sent to suburban settings, in place of trailers.

Yet while the floodwaters will recede, the influx of homes might not.

“If you look at every single disaster, so-called temporary housing never becomes temporary,” said James Garrison, the architect who designed the pods for the city. “There are people still living in buildings built after the Kobe earthquake in ’95. We wanted to make something nice that would be built to last, but you kind of have to, too, because that could just be what winds up happening.” Oct 2015


Description by The Official Website of the City of New York

New York City built and tested a post-disaster housing prototype for residents who may lose their homes as the result of a disaster, such as a catastrophic coastal storm. Through the Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program, the City created a multi-story, multi-family interim housing solution that will work in urban areas across the country. Interim housing is post-disaster housing. It is used after emergency sheltering, and before those affected by a disaster can move into housing they can sustain without post-disaster aid.

The Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program extends the City's Coastal Storm Plan and constitutes a critical step in New York City's effort to plan ahead for long-term housing recovery after a catastrophic disaster. These resources can be adapted to suit any city in the country.

Because of the city's high population density and the desire to resettle as many residents as possible in their former neighborhoods, NYC Emergency Management and the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) developed a new approach to interim housing that provides higher-density living spaces than the single-household homes or trailers typically used for post-disaster housing.

Following the What If New York City... competition, the agencies used the best entries to create an Urban Post-Disaster Housing Specification, essentially a blueprint for the manufactured housing industry to use to create post-disaster housing. It contained stringent requirements for safety, environmental quality, durability, and universal modular design. This specification is being revised to reflect lessons learned from the prototype, and can serve as the basis for big cities around the country to procure urban post-disaster housing in the future.

NYC Emergency Management then developed a guide, or "playbook," for post-disaster site selection with design principles for keeping residents in the community and allowing them to live and work in their neighborhood.

In 2012, NYC Emergency Management secured funding from FEMA to build a prototype and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was designated as the project manager for the prototype construction.

About the Prototype

On April 26, 2014, the Prefab Modular Emergency Housing prototype was assembled on site at the corner of Cadman Plaza East and Red Cross Place (adjacent to the NYC Emergency Management headquarters) in Brooklyn, NY. The project built was chosen as the result of a Request for Proposal that called for a full spectrum of services as they would be requested after disaster.

The prototype is a three-story structure with two, three-bedroom units and one, one-bedroom unit. The prefab unit on the ground floor has served as a public gallery with information about the project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers served as the project manager, and the contractor was American Manufactured Structures & Services, working with Garrison Architects, Mark Line Industries (which fabricated the prototype), and Anastos Engineering Associates.

The site for the Prefab Modular Emergency Housing prototype is a parking lot owned by the City that measures approximately 40' x 100'. The site was chosen because it demonstrates many of the challenges for post-disaster housing deployment in urban areas and has many of the assets that those displaced by disaster would need to re-establish a sense of community. NYC Emergency Management reviewed the site in line with the process in the Urban Post-Disaster Neighborhood Design Playbook.


Prefab Modular Emergency Housing Floor Plans

Prefab Modular Emergency Housing Construction

About Garrison Architects

We feel that well designed environments support social cohesion, balance human activity with nature, and intensify our experience of the world around us. Founded on the modernist legacy of design clarity and technical innovation, our work seeks to take advantage of new materials and evolving technologies to meet the challenges of today, including global warming, scarce resources, and rapid development.

Our approach is pragmatic. We work with the best means available to overcome the constraints of each project. Far from being a limitation, these constraints ground our work in real needs and spur research into innovative building techniques. Collaboration plays a fundamental role in this research. Within our walls, talented professionals and staff combine skills and experience to envision and produce sophisticated architecture. Beyond, we work closely with the world’s most accomplished engineers, artists, planners, technicians and manufacturers to build projects as varied as hurricane resilient beach structures and historic urban plazas.

Whether serving public or private clients, we design with an awareness of greater demands. Our goal is to create architecture that balances competing cultural and environmental forces, such as globalization and local tradition, ecological harmony and land development, and affordability and demand. Since 1991, Garrison Architects has pursued modular construction to solve the problems of sustainability, affordability and rapid growth. Its strengths are inherent material efficiency, economy of scale and built-in quality control. In our hands it has proved a powerful method for making humane, technologically advanced buildings that transcend mere shelter, on the one hand, and pure form or style on the other.

Address45 Main St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States

About Mark Line Industries

The company is permanently closed now.

Mark-Line Industries, LLC provides construction and development services. The Company offers designing, building, general contracting, construction management, maintenance, and project development services. Mark-Line Industries serves customers in the States of Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Address502 Alexander Dr, Ephrata, PA 17522, United States

About NYC Emergency Management (formerly the New York City Office of Emergency Management)

NYC Emergency Management helps New Yorkers before, during, and after emergencies through preparedness, education, and response.

The agency is responsible for coordinating citywide emergency planning and response for all types and scales of emergencies. It is staffed by more than 200 dedicated professionals with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, including individuals assigned from other City agencies.


NYC Emergency Management (formerly the Office of Emergency Management or OEM) has rebranded as part of a comprehensive effort to increase the public's awareness of our presence and role in the city. This rebranding included phasing out the use of the OEM title, acronym, and logo.

Address165 Cadman Plaza E, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States
Phone for Public Inquiries311 (+12126399675 for Video Relay Service, or TTY: +12125044115)
Phone for Press Inquiries+17184224888

About American Manufactured Structures and Services (AMSS)

AMSS offers a senior leadership team with 25+ years of individual experience managing design and construction projects. Each person on our team has experience in project management, operations, and sales. Working together for over 10 years, our team has a history of successfully completing a wide variety of projects for the Federal Government and communications/mission critical industry. This team has developed a proven capability to complete projects to the satisfaction of clients, while mitigating overall project risks.

One of the most important things we build is relationships. AMSS has forged lasting, mutually rewarding alliances with clients, architects and engineers, and subcontractors. We intend to earn your business by striving for excellence and promising to deliver to you your organization:

  • A commitment to the highest work standards and ethics
  • Accountability and responsibility from design through completion
  • A commitment to understanding client needs before we start the project
  • Assignment of a project team that remains pro-active
  • Regular communication to ensure we meet or exceed your expectations
  • A driven sense of pride in our work and the facilities, services, and solutions that we deliver
  • The highest level of integrity, quality, and excellence in service

American Manufactured Structures and Services was founded with a singular focus to provide mission critical facilities to the Federal Government and communications industry sector. AMSS offers a leadership team with a combined 60+ years of Federal Government and communications design and construction experience. Each person on our leadership team has specific experience in project management, operations, and sales for projects including modular data centers, cable landing stations, tactical communications shelters, and custom communication modular buildings.

The principals of AMSS have a history of successfully completing a wide variety of projects for a multitude of clients located around the world. This team has developed a proven capability to complete projects to the satisfaction of clients, while mitigating overall project risks.

Facilities produced by AMSS include forced entry/ballistic/blast modular office buildings, tactical communication shelters, and custom/prototype structures fabricated from ISO containers. Services provided by AMSS include existing office building modifications/renovations, facility maintenance, modular consulting, logistics, system integration, and modular facility relocation.

AddressP.O. Box 6, Hellertown, PA 18055, United States

Prefab Modular Emergency Housing, NYC, USA