Shipping company to design student housing project in People’s Park

Rendering of the UC Berkeley student project on the old People’s Park. Credit: Hapag-Lloyd Architectural Design Inc.

Editor’s note: This story was published on April 1st as an April Fool’s joke, which means it is entirely fictional!

In a short-lived press conference Thursday night, UC’s office of student housing and development announced a series of major changes to the People’s Park student housing project.

“We are under increased pressure to provide more student housing,” explained Isadora Jarr, student housing planning manager. “And we also need to cut costs. The university faces new budget constraints due to the high likelihood of future limits on admissions growth. So we changed architectural firm and we are very satisfied with the result. Modular housing is perfect for the next generation of students.

“The original plan,” Jarr said, “could only accommodate 1,100 students despite the project’s 12-story height. It was a very good design, but too conventional. We needed a more progressive housing concept and a more distinctive architectural motif. Using Hapag-Lloyd as design consultants, we doubled the number of beds and added a bold new look to the project. She explained that stackable modular living units allow for more capacity without increasing height. This approach also shortens the construction time by at least 18 months, she said, while significantly reducing the cost of the project from $312 million to less than $200 million. “A portion of the savings will be passed on to the students living in this complex, making education at Cal much more accessible.”

“Supply chain, man, think supply chain,” added longtime People’s Park campaigner Ellis Dee, now in charge of coordinating construction logistics. “I think the modules will be made in China, complete with interior fittings and everything, and shipped ready for occupancy, for example, just minutes after they’ve been put in place. How cool is that?”

Traditional construction would require sourcing components from a number of different suppliers, all with different supply chain lead times, he explained. “Desks, beds, shelves, lava lamps and all the other things students need, though I can’t think of anything else out of the blue.”

The modular units will be single-sourced and unloaded from a Hapag-Lloyd vessel at the Port of Oakland Container Terminal.

Many in attendance expressed skepticism, focusing primarily on the unconventional exterior aesthetic. “It looks kind of industrial, not academic at all,” remarked Roxanne Scholes, another longtime park advocate.

“Not everyone will like the new look,” admitted design team structural engineer Dr. Jocelyn Shaike. “But consider that our modular design provides far greater seismic resilience. The entire structure can tilt up to 45 degrees and nothing will come loose,” she said. “And it’s designed to withstand longitudinal accelerations of up to 1.5g.”

Sue Nahmie, chair of Berkeley’s Resilient Design Commission, added that although the site is not particularly prone to problems associated with sea level rise, the modular concept, in general, is easily adjustable to withstand to flooding simply by stacking on top of water resistant ground floor units.

But the press corps demanded more quantitative information: “How big is each living module? asked Mai Tan, of The Sun.

“Eight by 20,” replied Jocelyn Shaike. “160 square feet, or a standard 20-by-8-foot container. But there will be only one student in each module. The typical dorm size is 300 square feet for a double bed, and current practice puts three students in these rooms, for only 100 square feet per resident. Our survey shows that students have a strong preference for single rooms. She said that even with “extremely economical” double occupancy, 80 square feet per student is well above the building code minimum in some states, which is just 50 square feet per occupant.

“We look forward to seeing other major universities follow our lead with compatible modular systems,” added Doris Luce, representing the Chancellor’s Office. Housing transfer students will be a snap: just lift that student’s residential pod and ship it. There will never be an easier way to move.

Local contractors have expressed their objection to the basic concept of pre-engineered offshore fabrication. Waldo Wahl of interior design firm Curt ‘n Rod noted that they would lose the chance of a lucrative contract to outfit the new dorm. Phill Tubb and Luke Wharm, two plumbing contractors, had similar complaints against prefab shared bathroom units, saying local businesses like theirs and Berkeley’s economy would suffer.

“It is true that we will lose the economic benefits of unnecessary construction on site. But it cannot compete with the low cost of building finished housing modules in Chinese factories,” said planning consultant Bjorn Toulouse, citing a recent article in dorm design diary by Miles B. Hind. “Our first priority is to find ways to reduce the cost of participating in Cal, and this design saves more than $100 million in the cost of building new dorms.”

Hapag-Lloyd is best known as a global shipping company, but their selection as the architectural firm for the final design seems like a great choice.

“They have over half a century of experience stacking containers,” Toulouse added. “It was an easy problem to solve.”