Photo credit: Captain Albert E. Theberge, NOAA Corps (ret.)
Steel shipping containers with their rust-colored, world-weary patina have become ubiquitous symbols of the global economy. Millions are in circulation worldwide. And, they keep coming, especially from East to West.
Ninety percent of the world’s commerce is transported by 5,000 container ships. Some can accommodate over 10,000 containers, 25 percent of which begin their journey, not surprisingly, in China. It is often less expensive to manufacture these new in countries of origin rather than to reuse ones shipped in, resulting in vast wastelands of empty discards.
However, designers in the U.S. and the U.K. are finding containers to be remarkably versatile building components. Depending on size, ISO-standard shipping containers are relatively light—two to three tons. Most measure 8 feet wide and are from 10 to 40 feet long. Constructed of heavy-gauge Cor-Ten steel, they are waterproof, fire resistant, built to withstand the elements, and cheap—$500 to $3,000.
In Redondo Beach, California, DeMaria Design Associates built a 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home. Eight shipping containers of various sizes provided over half the structural elements. Painted white, these were stacked two high, some perpendicular. The completed project was cost competitive with comparable construction materials and techniques. And it won the 2007 AIA Honor Award for Design Excellence/Special Innovation.
Photo courtesy of De Maria Design Associates, Inc.
Urban Space Management, Ltd. in Britain offers a “Container City system,” which “uses shipping containers linked together to result in high-strength, prefabricated steel modules that can be combined to create a variety of building shapes.” The firm designed a four-story prototype in London’s Docklands district that provided 12 modest studio work spaces and three small living units. The firm also designed a Container City project of 15 retail and residential spaces on Lafayette Street in New York.
New Jersey architect and artist Adam Kalkin sells what he calls Quik Houses made from five shipping containers. Prices for the two-story, 2,000-square-foot homes range from $75,000 to $150,000.
Building codes are a challenge. Standards slowly are being developed and negotiated. Recently, Jennifer Kretschmer, a San Jose architect, designed her first shipping container house. “As long as we are trading with Asia,” Kretschmer told the San Francisco Chronicle, “there are going to be extra shipping containers.”
No sense throwing away empties.
By Bill Robinson
Shipping Containers Recycled as Homes – YouTube.com
IC Green Container Dwellings Sprout Up in California – inhabitat.com
Self-Contained in Texas – The New York Times