A new Blog Series which examines the history, applications and exemplars of container housing across the globe, as well as examining the Tiny House Movement. In this series of posts I will inspect tiny house projects and other relevant developments currently being undertaken in Australia and around the world.
Part 1: SHIPPING CONTAINERS
Shipping containers were standardised in the 1950s to create a more efficient and economical way to transport goods around the globe. Today the repurposing of containers into modules for building is becoming more widespread and is now creating a new category of architecture which some have labelled “cargotecture”. Due to their availability and relative low cost more people are investigating the use of containers for many innovative purposes, not the least of which is housing applications. While the phenomenon is growing rapidly around the globe there is still some resistance in western countries, to use containers as permanent housing due to a perceived negative stereotype. However, broader architectural applications such as retail, businesses, workshops and portable and temporary accommodation are increasing, with an emergent conversion industry developing.
Shipping containers are also known as ISBUs (Intermodal Steel Building Units) or ISO containers (International Standards Organisation) and they generally come in the standardised sizes of 10, 20 or 40 foot lengths which makes them ideally suited to becoming construction building blocks. Many containers are only used for one trip, as returning an empty container to its country of origin, usually China, is not economically viable. This import/export disparity has generated a surplus of containers in most western ports. The image below is an illustration of this excess and is featured on the cover of The Deadly Life of Logistics, Mapping Violence in Global Trade, written by Deborah Cowen.
Repurposing these surplus receptacles makes both economic and environmental sense. Dr Caroline Uittenbroek, Assistant Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, describes the repurposing of shipping containers as “…the ultimate in sustainability, using far fewer materials and far less embodied energy than any kind of construction” (Uittenbroek 2009).
The drawcard of the shipping container is undoubtedly its structural strength as they are made from high quality corten steel which is an incredibly strong, yet lightweight material made to tolerate the harsh elements often experienced at sea. It is certainly this strength combined with their uniformity which originally led architects and builders to explore alternative uses beyond storage and shipping.
Stay tuned for next week when we discuss container housing communities or developments around the globe.... and present examples