Ship to Shanty


Andrew Rescorla • civil/environmental engineering  
Betsy Huyser • international mechanical engineering
Alex Boelkins • mechanical engineering  
Katrina Denny • civil/environmental engineering


Create an innovative and sustainable temporary housing solution for millions of people who have no proper shelter in South Africa.


Using a standard shipping container, this senior project team designed and integrated all required systems to provide clean water, electricity and proper sanitation. All design work was based on a 40-foot container, which are in high surplus. The team constructed and tested a nearly full-scale prototype using a 20-foot shipping container.


It was Wednesday afternoon, and Calvin’s senior engineering majors were restoring order to the two wings of the engineering building, the site of Senior Projects Night—the annual student showcase of engineering ingenuity.

As his colleagues cleared tables of debris and pushed brooms, senior civil and environmental engineer Andrew Rescorla was out on the loading dock explaining why his team had converted a steel shipping container into a home. “I was down in South Africa a couple of years ago and saw these post-apartheid townships. There’s just a huge need for sustainable housing, and there will continue to be a need,” he said.


The shipping container makes a good temporary housing solution for the world’s urban poor, Andrew said, and his team, named “Ship to Shanty,” equipped their model with some modern-day amenities: there’s a sink, a toilet, a living area, a ventilation system, a sewage system and a basic water treatment system. The unit even had a garden on the roof.

Mechanical engineer Alex Boelkins was particularly enthusiastic about the water treatment unit, which converts water collected in a barrel on the roof into drinking water: “It was symbolic that our home could take dirty water and make it clean and safe,” he said.

There were some unforeseen challenges to the project, said Katrina Denny, another civil and environmental concentrator—such as cutting out spaces for windows. “In the prototype construction, we were definitely thinking things would go easier than they did,” she said, laughing.

Nevertheless, the Ship to Shanty crew was pleased with their prototype, a completed version of which would cost $5,000. “Using a shipping container for (permanent) housing doesn’t make sense,” said Andrew, “but using it for short-term, temporary housing does make sense.”


The shanty project not only makes sense, it presents the students with a real-world engineering challenge—which is the whole point of senior design projects, said Calvin engineering professor Aubrey Sykes. “It causes students to put their skills and education together on an unstructured problem, unlike the homework they’ve experienced,” he said.