In this design for a homeless navigation center for San Mateo County, shipping containers are adapted to serve as standardized prefabricated modules, enabling the client to meet the COVID-19-driven need for private sleeping quarters and a swift construction schedule. The containers are easily subdivided into individual sleeping units for the clients and private offices for case managers and administrators; partitions can be removed or added in the future as needed. While the containers are outfitted in the factory, construction of the foundations and site work can proceed, minimizing construction time. When the site no longer requires a navigation center, the containers can be transported and reinstalled in a new location.
The containers provide the architectonic elements – they enclose the site and give form to the communal outdoor spaces. A container on end rises to visually mark the site’s entry; this beacon’s interior houses the intake office and entrance security. On either side of the entrance, U-shaped arrangements surrounding courtyards comprise dining and administrative areas. Sleeping unit modules fan out in an arc that curves to follow the contours of the site, taking advantage of the maximum area on the narrow site while avoiding an adjacent railroad cut. An exposed steel structure supports a platform of perforated metal decking, provides access to the units above while filtering sunlight to the units below. Shade sails providing coverage to the exterior spaces are strategically secured to the containers on either side, eliminating the need for additional supports. Altogether, the project provides an efficient, re-usable, and high-quality architectural ensemble for an urgent cause.