ESW designs shipping container orphanage

MEMBERS OF THE CAPSTONE DESIGN TEAM from left to right: Kyle Gleken ’12, Casey McEvoy ’12, David Hackett ’12, Andrew Chung ’13, Nelson Lim ’12, ESW member Alex Worcester ’12, Elliot Kim ’12, Dylan Martinez ’12, and professor Michael Jensen.

Over the course of the past few months, RPI’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, in conjunction with a senior capstone design team, has conceived, designed, and constructed what they hope to be a sustainable way to house Haitian orphans. Their design uses a shipping container for much of the structure and involves the use of solar panels to provide the structure with power.

At the beginning of the semester, ESW was approached by To Love a Child—a nonprofit organization based in Clifton Park, NY, which “provides humanitarian assistance to impoverished children and their families throughout the world to help create a better future and quality of life for all”—about the project. The idea was to take a shipping container and modify it using sustainable technologies to create what would essentially be an orphanage for children in Haiti. At this point, though, commented Andrew Chung ’13, it was only an idea without funding.

ESW is a Rensselaer Union-funded organization with a budget of $100. However, the students involved, as well as their mentor, Professor Michael Jensen of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, determined that this would not be nearly enough to fund their project. Through their fundraising efforts, the students were able to acquire over $10,000 from various sources. The major contributors were Engineers for a Sustainable World, To Love a Child, Jensen himself, the Multidisciplinary Design Lab, the MANE Department, the Office of the President, and the School of Engineering.

The structure involves the use of a shipping container as its main part. Having determined that the high temperatures of Haiti may be an issue, the team applied foam insulation to the inside of the container, followed by a plywood lining. They also coated the outside of the container with a special reflective paint. According to Chung, the temperature difference of the air inside the container compared with the outside was as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. He added that, when he placed his hand on the top of the container during the day, it was remarkably cool. The design also includes windows. However, for the container to be allowed overseas, these cannot be cut out until it reaches Haiti. Also, rather than relying on the original doors of the container, the team built a new wall and door at the end of the structure. Chung stated that this was both to make it easier for the children to enter and exit the orphanage and for security purposes. It also employs a fan to circulate air through the container and solar panels, provided by General Electric, on the roof to provide power. Tarps on each side also provide shade for children outside. A ramp complying with guidelines set by the American Disability Association will be installed at the front of the orphanage. The overall design, Chung added, also utilized natural convection.

The rationale behind using a shipping container for the structure was that the team was initially informed the orphanage might need to move. Additionally, it is also a way to recycle the shipping containers. Chung mentioned that, as the U.S. and Haiti manufacture very little, these containers simply enter the U.S. and lie unused in ports.

According to Nelson Lim ’12, each member of the team put over 100 hours of work into the project. The team also received a significant amount of help from Jensen and organizations such as service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. Chung said that the project is “almost done” and that the shipping date for the orphanage is May 25. In August, a team of ten students will install the orphanage in Haiti.

Although the main purpose of the shipping container is to act as an orphanage, on the trip to Haiti it will also serve its original purpose, as groups like To Love a Child and the Empire Haiti Coalition will fill the container with donated items for the children to use. The team will begin accepting donations to fill the container on May 17, once construction is complete.

Other than their orphanage project, ESW will also be sending its members to Mexico over the summer to install solar panels in Mayan homes. For more information about ESW and its various projects, visit their website at, or look at their Facebook page at