Excess shipping containers, primarily from China, are often abandoned in many coastal cities, left stacked stories high after their use. The containers need not, however, make up their own graveyards as they are still useful in many way, especially in the construction industry as more architects and designers are beginning to take advantage of the millions of containers abandoned in California and the UK alone. I first fell in love with the idea of shipping container construction when I saw Shigeru Ban's Nomadic Museum. It is a temporary warehouse type exhibit space with fabric pulled between container spaces that allows filtered light to fill the large cooridor during the day and give the buildings facade rows of glowing rectangles when the interior is lit at night.

Reuse of such a widely produced product can be very cost efficient when considering construction and manufacturing costs of most materials and the fact that container sizes follow international standards makes them applicable as construction elements in any area of the world. It is this modular aspect of the containers is what makes them so appealing.

As with any product that seems too good to be true, shipping containers have their downfalls. While any double length container would be plenty of floor space for a room, about 320 sf, I question whether the 8' standard width of the containers ever hinder the comfort of the inhabitants, and that is a before insulation measurement. That said, my next concern is the fact that these boxes, metal boxes, can by no means be enery efficient unless coated in interior insulation and given some special treatments on the exterior so that they do not act like heat sponges on a summer day. Porosity also seems to be a factor due to the fact that opening the sides of a container means the designer needs to the deal with the corrugated form of the containers, which is why I imagine nearly every window I have seen on these containers is at one end or the other.

Although I currently see many difficulties facing shipping container construction in climates where temperature changes are a daily fact of life (i.e. not SoCal) their reuse is a step in the right direction towards sustaining our future and making the most of what we have laying abandoned in front of us. Continued experimentation with the excess containers will no doubt yield an innovative and practical alternative in the future.

Some architects and firms who are experimenting with shipping containers:

Adam Kalkin
Peter de Maria
Urban Space Management
Fox & Fowle Architects


Anonymous Container DAVE said...

it's a realy big issue in berlin at the moment. here you se some examples


7:11 AM  

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