Live From Ground Zero…

19 Mar

One of our readers (we’ll call him “D” – he bought “the book” and even kicked in a few bucks to help support the blog :))  says:

“I live in Tokyo, and come from NZ, Canterbury University in Christchurch is my university.

I’ve got friends both here and in Christchurch who have lost their houses and friends of friends who have lost loved ones. As you know NZ is heading into winter and Japan is in deep trouble.

The govt here has asked for 33,000 prefab houses. you probably don’t know this but there are still people living in prefab housing from both the Kobe Earthquake 1996, and the Nigata Earthquake 2004.

Japan’s summers are very hot and humid and winters are frigid – from what I’ve learnt container housing is going to be better in every possible way for these people up north.

An issue is that insurance for natural disasters in Japan is prohibitively expensive and less than 5 % of the buildings destroyed will have any type of insurance – 400,000 people without shelter and most with out the financial means to rebuild –

I have a friend checking with the prefab association here to get an understanding on the specifications and requirements and am researching myself what is needed.

Permanent structures have very tough earthquake laws and regulations and a normal shipping container does not qualify structurally, I have a japanese architect who has redesigned the basic shipping container to make it qualify to meet the regs, he has a chinese company using higher grade and thicker steel in the outside frame. he has a couple of places in Tokyo.

Prefabs do not have these strict requirements and I think (research needed) that containers will work well.

Do you have any ideas ?

Kind regards,”



Hi “D”,

First, thank you for your support. But let me point out that you don’t have to donate to ask for help. Ever.  At least not here.

That said…

Funny you should ask…

My design teams are currently working with two different aid foundations as I type this, developing “modular” housing from ISBU stock, for export to Japan and NZ, as a direct result of the earthquakes.

I DID know about the prefabs pre-exisiting in Japan. In fact, I’ve been to Japan MANY times. Not only did I live there as a child… I actually lived there as an adult for a few years, back when I still had hair.

I completely agree with you that the ISBU based housing would be a very good solution to Japanese problems in the northern part of the country.

I’ve consulted into a few Japanese ISBU projects and we have (in the past) and are now having the same problems your local architect has, meeting Japanese Earthquake code using standard boxes.

However, we didn’t go the “Design a new box” route;

We added box steel to the rail/frame assemblies to increase rigidity so that boxes on the ground there could be used as build assets.

Our numbers are demonstrating (on paper) that we’re getting closer to a solution that would be applicable in a seismic zone like “The Ring of Fire… and Japan specifically.”

Several of the “pilot boxes” are in earthquake zones in California, albeit they haven’t been tested by anything close to a 9 (on the Richter scale)…

The primary concerns are that just using thicker steel actually increases the odds of stress fractures in a big shake when you assemble these in a “honeycomb” formation to create the kinds of density required.

I know that it sounds odd, but the computer models so far bear it out.  We NEED the flex that the boxes will provide, to keep them from becoming shrapnel.

Our belief is that by adding box steel between the rail and frame assemblies, you can cost-effectively create housing solutions using local labor and local materials.

(Editor’s note: The idea is to create a cage inside a cage… “like the roll bars on a truck”. Done “right” – it’s an effective and inexpensive “fix”.)

To that end we’re currently building a prototype to mount on a “shaker table” at a University that we’re negotiating with… to test the theory.

I’m currently trying to raise the funds myself to make this possible.

If we’re right (and we think we are), the Japanese could start building housing rapidly, perhaps even using the boxes that the foreign aid arrives in, as a “starter course”...

Our biggest concern isn’t even BUILDING the boxes… it’s the transport, with many of the roads in question being “impassable”.

If you read the blog, you know that our hearts and prayers are with you guys as you weather the storms you’ve been faced with.

Anything that we can do to help… will be done, and it still won’t be enough.

Again, you’re in our prayers…

Alex Klein


Okay, anyone else out there got any ideas?

These are serious problems that aren’t going to solve themselves.

Anything that we can do to help is going to make the lives of thousands of families better…

If you can help, PLEASE… do it.