What's Wrong With Shipping Container Housing? One Architect Says "Everything."

2022-06-15 10:46:30 By : Ms. Daisy Fu

Shipping containers are now such a thing that in Denmark, they are putting them in glass cases. I have had a troubled relationship with shipping containers since I was ten, when my dad went into the container biz. They were made in the USA and Canada then and were really expensive; you wouldn't think of living in them. But every now and again he would get sent a photo of some shipping container in Africa that fell off a truck and had windows and doors cut into the walls.

I had some fun with them in University, designing a summer camp for temporary use that folded out of a forty footer. Because you would never actually use a container empty; the dimensions are lousy for people and the flooring was treated with insecticides and the paints were designed to last through ten years on the high seas, so are seriously industrial. It may have been a really bad career choice not sticking with containers, but my moves into modular construction and tiny homes were not too successful either.

Perhaps the lesson is that when it comes to housing, technology, or lack thereof, is not the fundamental problem. After watching all the coverage of shipping container schemes with some bemusement, I asked Does Shipping Container Architecture Make Sense? But now, in response to an architectural competition, Architect Mark Hogan of OpenScope Studio comes up with his own list of questions.

He speaks from some experience, having actually built a container project, and notes that "For sites where on-site construction is not feasible or desirable, fitting a container out in the factory can be a sensible option." But for housing? On his personal website, Mark makes some very good points. Here are some of the most interesting.

Here I might argue that the great genius of shipping containers is not the box but the handling systems; there are ships, cranes, trucks and trains all designed around them. So if you do want to deliver stuff fast after a disaster, there is no better form than the shipping container. He then goes through the fundamental problem of width, which is just too narrow really, Insulation, which is a huge problem, and for once, somebody understands about structure:

And then there is one that I have never thought about but is important:

Finally Mark mentions the issue of recycling. I have looked at this in the past, with the Upcycle House which had " the ambitious goal of being the first house build only from upcycled and environmentally sustainable materials." I did a calculation to determine if using two shipping containers as the structure of the house was actually the highest and best use:

There is a lot more steel in a shipping container than you actually need for a building; that's so they can be stacked full nine high and get tossed around the ocean and thrown on trucks and trains. It's really being wasted when it's put into a house. And as Mark notes, you can probably build it faster and cheaper than bringing in a welder and mucking up a shipping container.

Don't get me wrong; I love shipping container architecture that moves, plugs in, that takes advantage of the tremendous infrastructure. I agree with Mark that it is terrific for temporary or emergency uses. But does it make good housing? I don't think so. Perhaps after all these years I am still missing something.

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