top of page
  • Writer's pictureGM Shay

A Container Community

I have always been dubious about the making of architecture from shipping containers. Although there are lots of cool looking examples on Pinterest, these have always seemed to me to look like really bad modernism. As a humanist I always felt that there were so many other ways to build that were better.

But when City Manager Pat Monahan wrote and said that the City was working on ways to overcome the challenges of social distancing in local homeless shelters, I changed my mind. Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan had found a way to get tents donated and Pat was getting some surplus land cleared. He also imagined that he could get 50 shipping containers donated, and some local businesses persuaded to donate labor to build them out. Pat asked if we would donate some design ideas.

Homelessness has been a very large problem in our community for a long time. My heart breaks when I see the hundreds of people living under tarps, or sleeping in Thomas Square Park, with so little hope. A while back Caitlin Moultroup studied some ideas for Tiny Homes for homeless veterans for Hinesville and our firm donated those ideas. The tiny homes were compact, but fairly expensive to build. Recent efforts to build tiny homes in Savannah have proved to cost more than some existing houses nearby, and so were too expensive to scale up to meet anything close to the need.

Our team at GMShay jumped at the challenge of looking at cottages created from shipping containers and half containers. We studied costs for materials that might be discounted or donated, and how these containers could be arranged in imaginative ways to create human scaled settlements. Then we chose profiles for homeless people based on our experiences working with shelters and charities--singles and couples, mothers with small children and small families--and went to work. We also chose to add a community center with showers, washers and dryers, a pantry for charities to distribute needed commodities, and a health room for consultations and triage. Unfortunately the danger of pandemic spreading in our homeless community is not likely to dissipate any time soon.

Caitlin Moultroup, Latoya Waters, Ana Manzo, Meredith Stone and Bates Hagood showed their practical creativity with some truly inspired solutions to this very difficult challenge. You can see their work here:

Container Village
Download PDF • 3.17MB

This problem is symptomatic of the even greater challenge of affordable housing that faces our community. Working together we learned how to look at this problem from an economic view, by reducing the needs of a dwelling to the bare minimum, and keeping the cost to about $20,000 per cottage. This is a small fraction of the cost of tiny homes or studio apartments. We will be better urban designers and architects going forward because we can now look at affordable housing as being like enlarged cottages rather than small suburban homes.

We hope our donated ideas will help the City of Savannah, and we are thankful to our Mayor and Alderman for their compassion and leadership.


bottom of page