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Repurposing Cruise Ships for Housing

One especially hard-hit victim of the COVID-19 pandemic is the cruise ship industry. From their 2020 projected 32 million passengers to near zero has crippled many lines. They were not equipped for this pandemic to spread so quickly and dangerously.


The cruise industry supports 1.17 million jobs around the world. The visions of passenger’s bodies being carried off the ships has damaged the industry immensely. People simply do not want to go on a cruise ship that could be contaminated. https://cruising.org/cruise-industry-covid-19-facts-and-resources

Interestingly, these ships are the only form of transportation that is equipped to care for passengers and crew in a medical calamity. The Cruise Industry Association requires all ships to be equipped with medical facilities including doctors and medical personnel to be available 24/7. But COVID-19 spread like wildfire through poorly designed AC systems and lack of social distancing with virtually no masks made cruise ships death traps for the predominately senior cliental, often with health issues.


75% of the international cruise line is controlled by four companies. Unlike the 2009 recession that took three years for recovery, this could affect the industry for decades with continuing pandemic fears. Ships will be permanently furloughed as well as people.

https://www.uticaod.com/news/20200620/choppy-waters-ahead-for-cruise-industry The need to repurpose these decaying mammoths into much needed housing becomes a real possibility.


This is not the first time converting aging cruise ships to housing has been considered. In December 2019, the Oakland City Council negotiated to convert a cruise ship to house up to 1,000 homeless persons. In 2018, a Portland Maine nonprofit pursuit grants for a similar concept and in 2016 former SF Mayor Art Agnes suggested converting an aircraft carrier into shelter.-https://sf.curbed.com/2019/12/12/21012698/oakland-city-council-kaplan-cruise-ship-homeless

Don’t feel sorry for the cruise ships. Their official lifespan is typically 30 years and with industry’s 15% depreciation rate makes 18 years old ship to fall into the African Queen category. Aesthetically, a cruise ship is dated in five years.

There are three options for these maturing relics. They can be stripped for steel, offloaded to third world cruise lines or sold on the secondary market for “booze cruises”. Simple renovation still takes big bucks. These ships are ripe for conversion to housing in breathtaking locations.

Whether it be for the growing BabyBoomers population who want to downsize in a dignified fashion or to house our vast population of low income first time responders, many of these ships could have a second life as a housing and living communities with all the amenities and options of a city. https://seniorhousingnews.com/2018/03/13/company-convert-cruise-ship-senior-living-sea/


What architectural styles might prevail? Considering how quickly these cruise ships become aesthetically obsolete, a true cruise ship retro-look might work. Not sure if “An Affair To Remember” with Cary Grant on loop will resonate but certainly a classic ship memorabilia period will. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-31/where-do-old-cruise-ships-go-to-die

If you’ve never lived on the water, you’re missing something. In the 70’s, while a starving single architect, a Sausalito houseboat was a cool place to live. There is nothing like a morning sunrise on the Bay. You learn to minimize your personal effects and what you don’t use in a year, goes out. I would move back in a heartbeat if there was a dock in Napa.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

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