Gallery: ‘WHAT IF NYC?’ Competition Winners Announced


“What if….” The two-word phrase can imply both fear and anxiety as well as big ideas and hopeful possibility. And that was the idea behind the What if New York City? international Design Competition for Post-Disaster Provisional Housing. Sponsored by New York City Office of Emergency Management’s Ready New York, the call went out to the design community to envision solutions to one of the biggest challenges facing densely settled urban areas: how to keep residents safe and sheltered after a natural disaster. More than 400 design teams from 52 countries responded and the results have yielded incredible ideas filled with creativity and thoughtful innovation.

João Sequeira

The criteria for entries included consideration of density, rapid deployment, site flexibility, unit flexibility, reusability, livability, accessibility, security, sustainability, identity and cost efficiency. A jury of experts from architecture, urbanism, design and government found a diverse range of proposals with strategies like using steel shipping containers or prefabricated modular designs.

Floating offshore housing, flat pack, accordion-like expansion, hexagon, vertical and circular configurations were all represented among the entries. More designs came as furnished dwellings, used sustainable construction (and deconstruction) methods and many paid particular attention to site strategy within a post-disaster landscape.

All of the submissions are available for viewing online at What if New York City but we had a few favorites among the top ten winning designs. Above, João Sequeira proposes a high density, modular housing that uses renewable energy and can occupy the “frontier” between reconstruction areas and unaffected sectors of the city. Sequeira’s housing can be ready for occupants within 30 days and be completely dismantled and adapted to new use.

David Hill’s “Threading Water” takes advantage of Manhattan’s shoreline to provide temporary, floating housing that uses a modular construction with interchangeable structural panels and integrated water harvesting strategies. Another intriguing proposal is Matthew Francke’s Mobile Emergency Relief Ports or MERPs, prefabricated dwellings that arrive complete (by barge) with desalination and water purification systems, waste water containment systems and micro turbines for self-sustained energy production.

+ What if New York City?

*Sponsored by New York City Office of Emergency Management’s Ready New York with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and Architecture for Humanity New York.


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  1. Architects India February 26, 2008 at 3:16 am

    This has become a trademark design considering NYC. I mean , when other cities do the same , they call it NYC. But we must realise how important it is to diversify in style of architecture , Thats what makes it all worthwhile.

  2. Hugo February 25, 2008 at 4:29 am

    Just another container design. Or lots of it, this time. The only difference I can see is the difference in stacking (or maybe those are just the favourites of the writer, the NYC site is not working so I can’t see the other systems). Not innovative, though.

    Modular houses are subject to overdevelopment. Loads of systems are developed and never build. Case study? I don’t think so.

    But what is done with the result of this contest? Is the winning principle going to be build? Did they learn from New Orleans? Are they going to make a (nationally employable) emergency backup city? That could be put in effect in just days?

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