HELP in a Disaster

A new design puts the home in temporary housing

| May / June 2006

Hurricane Katrina showed us how little attention individuals, agencies, and governments pay to the issue of transition housing until a crisis is at hand. This lack of advance planning results in dismal solutions like temporary trailer parks, even though a plethora of innovative options for disaster-relief housing are there for the implementing.

Spurred on by the horrific images of the damage inflicted by Katrina (and, later, Hurricane Wilma), architect Carib Daniel Martin and builder Rob Bragan took on the challenge of developing disaster-relief housing that would not only shelter the displaced but also provide them with a real sense of home. As Martin explains, 'We thought it was time to once again consider the role of architecture within our social and cultural framework as well as the potential for technology and industrialization to better the world.' In September 2005 the pair designed and built (with the help of several volunteers) the Housing Every Last Person (HELP) house prototype. Just 8 feet by 12 feet, the HELP house squeezes into its comfy quarters two sleeping areas, a full kitchen and eating area, and a bathroom.

Key to the tiny structure's success is the ability to transform its main living space from a lounge to a dining room to a bedroom by utilizing common elements like a sleeper sofa and enough hinges to help hide space-consuming items like a bunk bed and a kitchen table. With a nod to Southern vernacular architecture, Martin and Bragan decided to include a small front porch, thereby providing space for a welcome mat for future residents -- and for the entire recovering neighborhood.

Reprinted from Dwell (Feb./March 2006). Subscriptions: $24/yr. (9 issues) from Box 5100, Harlan, IA 51593;