The life of SEED: Shipping container cuts wide berth to Kenya

"Now more than ever, it is time to take a stand against energy-consuming buildings, and intentionally design with future generations in mind. The library’s construction seeks to reuse materials like the shipping container and upcycled pallet wood, as well as generate its own renewable energy. It uses passive strategies like orientation, shading and day lighting to limit the need for mechanical systems."

Students for Environmentally Enlightened Design (SEED), a collaborative, student-initiated project is at the forefront of creative thinking. Participants are designing and building an energy-independent library for an African refugee camp, created from an old high-seas shipping container. In order to promote education and literacy in a place where infrastructure and material resources are limited, the team is constructing the mobile library at Penn State’s University Park campus and shipping it to Kenya, Africa.

The library design, hopefully a template for more in the future, uses a standard 40-foot shipping container as the basic structure and all other construction materials and books are transported inside the container during shipping. This turnkey design allows books to arrive in a way that they can be viewed, read and managed with minimal effort from camp members and aid organizations. Powered by photovoltaic panels, the library functions without connection to an electric grid and will not strain the camp’s already limited resources. The future library is currently under construction and is scheduled to ship in August of 2013, according to Bethany Drab, SEED member.

Kelly Ryan, student president of SEED, said, “Every human should have access to education, yet many refugees who stay in camps for extended periods of time are not provided this basic human right.” Generally speaking, architects have avoided these types of problems and in favor of monumental buildings and wealthy clients. More recently, as part of a paradigm shift, members of the architecture profession are placing value on every level of design and every human’s right to good design. Humanitarian Design addresses issues such as disaster reconstruction, shelter, education, and the basic needs of communities, and demands the same emphasis on aesthetics as in traditional architecture.  By constructing the library, the group is creating a place to gather and learn, and a place where camp refugees’ pride in their community can be restored through good design.

The library also represents a shift to the philosophy of sustainable design. Sustainable design is not a fad to produce “green buildings,” but a growing movement of individuals and organizations that seek to redefine how buildings are designed, built, and operated to be more responsible to the environment and more responsive to people (The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, Jason F. McClennen). Over the past two centuries, the building and construction industry has negatively impacted the environment and significantly contributed to climate change. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (2011), the building sector consumes 48.7 percent of the total U.S. energy, surpassing both the transportation and industry sectors. Now more than ever, it is time to take a stand against energy-consuming buildings, and intentionally design with future generations in mind. The library’s construction seeks to reuse materials like the shipping container and upcycled pallet wood, as well as generate its own renewable energy. It uses passive strategies like orientation, shading, and day lighting to limit the need for mechanical systems.

Recently, SEED students had the opportunity to attend national conferences sponsored by Architecture for Humanity and the United States Green Building Council, where they shared the work they are doing at Penn State. This April several SEED members will travel to Baltimore, Maryland, to present their project at Solar 2013, a national conference sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society. This will be a platform to elaborate on how a group of dedicated students can create a positive change and encourage others to take similar actions.

Follow SEED at: https://stuckeman.psu.edu/arch/students-environmentally-enlightened-design-seed

Last Updated February 13, 2013