Shipping containers. You’ve seen them on trains, on the back of trucks, at ports and piled onto cargo ships. There more than 20 million of those steel 40 by 8 feet (12 by 2.4 meter) boxes scattered around the world. That’s more than were needed even before the current economic slowdown. Today, as many as one million shipping containers may be sitting around unused. The surplus is especially profound in the United States, northern Europe and China.
Given the planet’s excess of shipping containers and shortage of affordable housing it only makes sense that people would make the connection. “Container architecture” has become a specialty in itself. The benefits are obvious: Containers are relatively cheap (around US$1,200~1,500 each). They are, by definition, portable. And they are durable (made to survive rough treatment and resist salt corrosion). A container house can be built, on average, 40% faster than a comparably sized traditional house. And then there’s the environmental benefit of putting surplus containers to use instead of letting them slowly rust in a landfill.
Thousands buildings made of shipping containers are today being uses for offices, stores, restaurants and private residences. There are several excellent books documenting the most interesting among them. Here are five shipping container buildings we think are especially cool:
Keetwonen is the largest complex in the world constructed of shipping containers. Its 1,000 units were initially built in 2005 to provide five year’s worth of temporary student housing. The life expectancy of this complex of buildings has already been pushed back to 2016 and it wouldn’t surprise us to see Keetwonen as a mainstay of Amsterdam housing long after that. The container units meet all of Amsterdam’s housing regulations and are extremely popular among students—each unit has surprisingly soundproof walls as well as its own bathroom, kitchen and balcony. Keetwonen also “contains” cafes, shops, art studios and even mini-gyms.
2+ Weekend House
The Slovenian architectural firm of Jure Kotnik Arhitekt specializes in shipping container construction. Their 2+ Weekend House design uses containers specifically built for housing. This isn’t as environmentally friendly as using surplus shipping containers. But the Jure Kotnik containers have all the electrical wiring and plumbing connections built in, making it possible to construct a 2+ Weekend House extremely quickly. We like the house’s efficient floor plan (see below). But what’s up with the pink polka dots?
Container City, by the Trinity Buoy Wharf on the Thames, might be the most famous example of shipping container architecture. We think it’s also one of the coolest. Or, technically, two of the coolest. Container City I has two levels of red containers stacked flush together. Connected to that by a skywalk is Container City II where multi-colored containers, five high in some spots, criss-cross at interesting angles. Container City are especially popular with artists who can rent a container home for as little as £250 a month (though the containers in the prime locations and with the best windows go for as much as £1,500). To visit Container City yourself take the tube to Tower Hill Station then the Docklands Light Rail to the East India Station.
To the extent there are activists who promote building houses out of shipping containers their goal is for such housing to be truly accessible to the masses and not merely the subject of blogs like Spot Cool Stuff. To that end there are several companies marketing cool, affordable container homes. One of the best is New Zealand’s Port-A-Bach. (Bach is a kiwi word for a small holiday home). Their holiday home product is designed to be self contained (pun?) with walls that fold up. The idea is the these container homes can be transported anywhere with relative ease and be inhabited without any electricity or plumbing hookup. See their website for more details.
If you are in North America and would like to buy a one-container house check out Ecopods. Their product is similar to Port-A-Bach’s and can be bought for as little as C$26,650 (roughly US$21,500).
The 26 meter (85 foot) high Freitag Shop is not only the world’s tallest building made of shipping containers, it is the tallest building in Zurich of any sort! The Freitag messenger bag company built this store from 17 used shipping containers to emphasize how their products, too, are made from recycled material. The first four floors of the building are for store display space. The other containers are used for storage and for the staircase that takes visitors to a viewing platform at the very top of the building.
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