From Boxes to Boxcars | From 4000 to 0


The Need:

Chances are not a day goes by without you or a family member coming across someone who is homeless.  Be it on a street corner, side street, or at a shelter in your community, you have experienced homelessness at some point during your life. Depending on your state, homelessness ranges from a few hundred to over a hundred thousand people per state. The homeless community in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky is fortunately decreasing at double digit rates every year. Louisville is also one of the largest cities railed cities in the United States. However, there are still over 4,000 people experiencing homelessness in the state of Kentucky. Helping get that over 4000 number is where I want to make an impact– I want to help go from 4000 to 0.


The Design

The Dimensions 

Left over from the early 1900’s, there are 100’s of unused boxcars sitting in rail yards all over the city.

My idea is to use boxcars as a means of sheltering the homeless. Now, I don’t mean putting up cheap dividers and a few cots to make a “livable” place. I want to create a space that is truly a place people want to be. To do this all I really required was a bit of research and some inspiration. First I had to figure out the dimensions of a boxcar. To the left is a diagram of all the railcars offered by railway supplier CSX.

Since I don’t have access to the distribution of the kinds of railcars, I took an estimate of which seemed to make up the majority of railcars in Louisville. In the end I found that the 60′ Standard seems to be the most abundant car. So the dimensions of a 60′ standard is what I decided to go with.

The Site

All architectural designs require a site to build on. Now in most cases the design is really built around the site; however, for this project I needed to choose a site that fit my design. I had to find a place that was easily accessible to the downtown Louisville area, and was a generally flat space that could accommodate railing for the cars to move on. The perfect spot was an old lot not far from the local university:

This is the site plan with contour lines to show a change in altitude of 5 feet. Reading contour lines is simple: every line represents a change in altitude. The arrow is pointing north. The red box in the center is a preliminary model I built early in the process.

Why I did I choose this location? Well to start, it’s flat minus a few budged areas. Another big reason is that the strip of black in the bottom left corner is actually a railway that could easily allow cars to be hauled on and off as needed. Another reason is that with the local university just down the road, and a fairly large med program at many universities in the city, there would be an abundant source of people to reach out to for medical and assisted living services.

2 models

So I did some brainstorming and was able to reduce the space I would make out of the cars into two main categories. Those that would require 24/7 monitoring, and those that would not require it. These are for two target groups: children 17 and under, elderly 65 and older, and the mentally/physically handicapped; this group would be the group that requires 24/7 assistance. The second group would be those between those ages/not handicapped. These two groups would require a slightly different design for each category.

Not Monitored

From right to left: living room, bedroom, changing/washroom, and then two showers.


So the monitored housing will be the exact same as unmonitored housing with one exception. The bed room and living room will shrink a little bit and an additional room will be added between the bed and living rooms. This spare room is where the caretaker will sleep. The room will serve two purposes: the first purpose is to (obviously), give the person a place to sleep, and the second purpose is to serve as a checkpoint for people living in the car. If they are in the bedroom at night, they would have no way of wandering off without passing through the caretakers room. 


The nice thing about this project is that the majority of the building cost is taken out of the equation by the boxcar already being built out of steel. The interior will be insulated with a spray on insulator and convert with a synthetic wood paneling (the fake wood you find in cladding on house). Overall the biggest cost would be purchasing the train car and doing the welding.


My goal was to maximize the space inside of a box to be used for living, cleaning, and recuperating. To do this I first had to take inspiration from an idea that is similar to the boxcar idea: container housing. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of container housing (or if you just want to watch a pretty cool design), here is a short video walkthrough of a man who built a container house.


How can we promote change similar to this? 

A first place to start is always the least thought of — VOTE. If you believe your community has a homeless problem write to your congressional member or your governor about the problem, see if homelessness is high on the political agenda for them. If this doesn’t apply to your country then find a way to take action.

I invite you to take part in this pole to see how homelessness is effecting communities across the world, and how you compare to other communities.

Comment below any improvements you think that could be made to the design, or ways that I could create more palpable change, please comment below! Lets try to keep an open dialogue.

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