Student proposes prefrabricated housing as Sandy recovery aid

Staten Island’s recovery from October 2012’s Hurricane Sandy would benefit from new homes assembled from prefabricated components rather than homes built with traditional construction methods, said Brent Gohmert, an environmental design major at Texas A&M in a paper he wrote during the spring 2013 semester as an honors and undergraduate research scholar.

Despite receding from the headlines, the New York City borough, hard hit by the hurricane, is still rebuilding from Sandy’s destruction.

“Hundreds of homes are still in ruins,” wrote Connor Adams Sheets in the May 4, 2013 edition of the International Business Times.

Gohmert drafted a design proposal informed by his research, which involved trips to Staten Island and New Orleans neighborhoods to observe hurricane recovery efforts.

Prefabricated housing, said Gohmert, that includes aluminum framing in a grid pattern in which wall, floor or ceiling components can be simply inserted into the structure, could expedite an area’s recovery from hurricane damage. Homeowners could build their own houses by arranging and rearranging components until deciding upon a desired size and configuration.

Accessible by stairs and an elevator, Gohmert's homes would be raised 10 feet off the ground, limiting future storm surge damage while creating green space underneath.

Such homes would be easier to repair when damaged by subsequent hurricanes, because residents would be able to replace individual components instead of the entire house, he said.

“A standardized housing assembly procedure would mean an expedited response time, a structured addressing of affected residents’ needs, and the speedy reconstruction of their futures,” said Gohmert, who researched the effects of past hurricanes, critiques of disaster response efforts and various post-hurricane housing options.

Components could be designed and built to precise specifications using building information modeling, he said.

“Off-site construction has evolved greatly since the arrival of BIM,” said Gohmert. The designer to not only determines the exact dimensions of the house’s frame also capable of selecting the best materials for each element,” said Gohmert. “With this information, the structure is able to be prefabricated with precision and little to no waste.”

He added that after materials are delivered to a site, with prefabricated housing one can simply read a set of instructions in order to assemble a new residence ready for occupants within weeks instead of months.

While considering the type of housing that would best aid in Staten Island’s recovery, Gohmert was inspired by the Loblolly House, a prefabricated residence designed by architect Stephen Kieran.

“It’s a masterpiece of prefabricated construction,” said Gohmert. “The Loblolly House demonstrates the substantial benefits available when using building information modeling techniques to design a structure.”

The house highlights the most significant difference between an assembled and a constructed house. 

“Assembly can be performed with rudimentary skill and just a few simple tools,” said Kieran. “Construction, directed by unwritten knowledge passed along through formal training and apprenticeship, is complex and often requires considerable skill, training, and specialized tools and equipment.” 

posted May 29, 2013