Making Light: Shipping container architecture - Sent Using Google Toolbar

Making Light: Shipping container architecture

Shipping container architecture
Posted by Teresa at 10:49 PM * 115 comments

This started in the NYC hurricane thread, which got to talking about emergency housing in New York. Midori said:

I recall a post-Katrina NPR interview with a fellow who studied them. It seems that after every major disaster, some architects (or arch school students) start designing "cheap, portable, easy to assemble" portable shelters. Apparently it makes for a good assignment.

The problem is, that though there are hundreds (!) of decent designs for such things, nobody makes them. Why? Basically there isn't a manufacturing/distribution base for making them. Often because making them requires unusual (but eco friendly!) materials, or uncommon skill sets.

One proposed solution the sourcing problem was to abandon clever solutions in favor regular tradesmen and available materials. In the U.S., that means teams of ordinary builders use frame, drywall, paint, etc, the interiors of shipping containers. (Obviously a welder and a supply of cheap prefab windows would be a help.) Transportation of shipping containers is a solved problem if you can get a semi truck to your destination.

Shipping containers! I was impressed, and said so. We're a port. We've got scads of shipping containers:
You could float them over on barges or container vessels. All you need then is a sturdy framework to hold them, and water, sewer, and electrical hookups. Windows would be a plus. At minimum they'd get you through the first weeks and months following the hurricane, though they'd be less congenial when the really cold weather set in.
Abi volunteered that
There are a couple of blocks of shipping containers turned into student housing not far from my office. I understand that they make quite cozy studio apartments. They are sought-after housing, in a funky area north of the Ij, a 15 minute (free) ferry ride from Centraal Station.
Looking at that led me to another student housing project. That was interesting. Were there any more? I absently typed shipping containers housing into Google.


Did you know that we have a problem with too many shipping containers? These days, the United States doesn't export much, but it imports a lot, and it's not economical to send the containers back empty, so the shipping containers just keep stacking up. One source said there are 700,000 abandoned containers in U.S. ports. That number has undoubtedly gone up. More and more people are looking at the things as housing components.

Bob Vila likes the idea. He did a series of videos about it.

The New York Times says it's being done.

MSNBC says it's being done in Florida.

Container City says it's being done by them, they've got it down to a system, and they've got lots of good-looking examples. ( More.)

Another student housing project made of containers.

A compendious site about shipping container housing, including numerous articles.

Designs and examples from a prefab building enthusiast.

An excellent collection of designs and examples from frugal leftist green architecture guy Zack Smith, who says:

This is a webpage devoted to listing as many examples of people using shipping containers as architectural elements as I can find, in an effort to embolden people to use containers in building projects, when and where doing so is feasible and appropriate. Be aware that containers are not a perfect building material, since they tend to corrode, but they have been used effectively in some cases, especially in areas near saltwater.
A brief but link-dense treatment of the subject by a treehugger.

Earth Science Australia has a detailed account (with photos) of how they put together a container shipping house in a remote spot in a Queensland rainforest, including what happened when it got hit by Cyclone Larry, Cat. 5, with local wind gusts to 283kmh.

Mother Earth News is (of course) hazily in favor of the idea, but thinks it would be better with (of course) some hay bale insulation.

Wikipedia was way ahead of me. They're all over this one. For instance:


Empty shipping containers are commonly used as market stalls and warehouses in the countries of the former USSR.

The biggest shopping mall or organized market in Europe is made up of alleys formed by stacked containers, on 170 acres of land, between the central part of Odessa in the Ukraine and its airport. Informally named "Tolchok" and officially known as the Seventh-Kilometer Market, it has 16,000 vendors and employs 1,200 security guards and maintenance workers.

In Central Asia, the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, almost entirely composed of double-stacked containers, is of comparable size. It is popular with travelers coming from Kazakhstan and Russia to take advantage of the cheap prices and plethora of knock-off designers.

It also explains that shipping containers have been used as, for, or in emergency shelters, school buildings, urban homes, rural homes, large houses, apartment and office buildings, artists' studios, sleeping rooms, stores, shopping malls, transportable factories, mobile exhibition spaces, telco hubs, bank vaults, medical clinics, radar stations, abstract art, data centers, experimental labs, and relocatable marijuana gardens

Used container dealers: W&K Container :: Chassis King :: Furbished-up containers to spec: The Mobile Storage Group :: Onsite Storage :: Sea Box :: K&K Containers :: RCS Group InterModals :: Other: B2B-Exchange.com: (Informative. Has a widget where you specify your needs and get free local price quotes.)

Mortgage News Daily says

Could America's record balance of payments deficit with China be the solution to low cost housing? Might it even be an unprecedented opportunity to be Green? … If that sounds like two really stupid questions, well maybe not so much.
A mortgage broker (he probably picked up the story from Mortgage News Daily ) reassures us that shipping-container housing isn't this era's equivalent of the geodesic dome, and cites NJ architect Gregory La Vardera's richly informative site as proof.

So anyway, it's nice to know that if we crash our economy via trading in real estate derivatives and our atrocious trade imbalance with China, we'll have a source of emergency low-cost housing easily to hand.