The 19th century saw many innovations in housing, most notably the balloon and platform framing methods that dominate low-rise housing construction in the U.S. to this day. But there was an alternative; from 1815 through the 1950’s whenever Americans needed semi-permanent shelter they built structures with simple thin boards acting simultaneously as structure and enclosure. These “shanties,” “box-houses,” “single-walls,” were built in New England canal towns, midwestern railroad camps, and as disaster relief camps following the great 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Thousands were likely built as housing, utility, and mercantile structures, perhaps hundreds remain in service today. But few design and construction professionals know of this construction method. This paper will present the principles of structure and a case study in construction. This little known mode of constructing shelter has great potential as second stage disaster recovery housing. It is durable, some lasting over 100 years, can be built with unskilled/semi-skilled labor with few tools and fasteners, and is easily flat-packed for shipping to disaster regions.
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