Designing homes in “Disaster Chic”

Looking for a home that will help you survive the coming apocalypse? Look no further than printable homes, prefabricated small homes, and shipping containers.

You peer warily out of the single window in your zombie-proof steel box. The street seems deserted—except for a lone figure who is staring at you from a distance. Is it 2079, in the years after the Great Drought Plague!? No, it’s 2015 in Royal Oaks, Michigan, and that zombie is a curious local Fox reporter.

Royal Oaks is just the latest American town to get a house made from shipping containers, which offer something unique to consumers with a taste for apocalyptic adventures. While designers are developing smarter ways to build temporary housing and disaster shelters, developers and real estate agents are using the same technology to sell trendy and high-end homes. What results is a bizarre kind of hybrid style that pairs our worst fears with our biggest hopes for the future—utopia and dystopia overlap. Call it disaster chic…

Of course, it’s not surprising to see interesting ideas cross-pollinate—3D printing, containerization, and pop-up dwellings are all really cool concepts, and there’s no reason they should be shrouded in break-in-case-of-emergency glass. What’s interesting is how similar our ideas about crisis engineering and future chic really are. In the city of the future, everything is instant, whether for a good reason or a bad one. The cities of our dreams have a lot in common with those of our nightmares.

These homes don’t seem all that well equipped to help keep you safe. If anything, their primary feature in relation to disasters is that they can be quickly produced and moved. Those are important features in recovering from disasters but I imagine some might want more solid homes to survive the disaster in the first place.

But, it is interesting that such homes that do well at addressing disaster recovery might become more popular with a broader audience. Do such designs simply offer something different in a housing market where the typical home or housing unit isn’t really that exciting or different? Is this a way to offer ironic commentary about one’s home – homes in the United States are often intended to imply permanence but these structures hint at catastrophic change and adaptability? Or is this primarily driven by younger adults looking for cheaper housing options in cities that seem pretty determined to not provide much in the way of affordable housing?

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