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Students interested in the future of senior housing were encouraged to think “inside the box” and consider how shipping containers might provide a sustainable and affordable senior living solution.

The Student Gerontology Association welcomed speakers Tiago Atwi and Mateo Atwi from BMarko Structures, a modular construction company specializing in repurposing shipping containers into industrial, commercial, and residential buildings, for a Zoom discussion on the possibilities of modular senior living facilities on March 19, 2021. 

USC Leonard Davis School Lecturer Josh Johnson MAG ’09, chief operating officer at West Bay Senior Living, also provided some insight into how modular construction can impact the current senior living industry. 

BMarko production manager Tiago and operations manager Mateo explained how the horizontal and vertical conjunction of multiple shipping containers, or modules, can make for large-scale and efficient buildings. While they might still look like shipping containers on the outside, their respective interiors come with furniture, lighting, and plenty of space for whatever purpose, according to Mateo and Tiago. In addition, other types of modular construction can allow for a more traditional outward appearance. 

Sustainable, efficient and flexible

Some of the benefits of modular construction with shipping containers include its sustainability by reusing containers, faster development with teams based all across the country, and consistency for subcontractors who can work together in one place – units are usually fabricated at a single off-site location – instead of starting from scratch at multiple construction sites, Tiago said. 

The group also emphasized the importance of making the facility appear “home-like” from the inside to help older adults adjust to their new settings. Tiago and Mateo showcased some examples of BMarko’s orders, highlighting how the company can easily make multiple containers feel like an office or living space. BMarko has spearheaded modular construction through modular classroom spaces, athletic equipment rooms, church buildings, office spaces, and much more. One project the speakers highlighted was the modular hospital project, which helped to establish 48 hospital rooms in just four weeks. 

In terms of senior living, the speakers and Johnson highlighted the importance of building living facilities in each state despite vastly different living and construction costs. Johnson noted that modular systems might help provide more manageable and affordable assisted living facilities across the nation and particularly in California, where higher costs associated with strict codes for facilities could be offset by the efficiency of modular construction.

“If you can make it much less expensive, then maybe there’s an application for more affordable assisted living, which is needed nationwide,” Johnson said.

Top: speakers from BMarko Structures discuss a modular building made from shipping containers with a customizable interior.

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