This is part two in my series of blog posts examining existing container housing communities or developments around the globe. These include examples of the earliest known projects, the Esperanza Farmworker Community and Sean Godsell’s FutureShack. With the exception of Future Shack, I am concentrating on community or village type developments, as opposed to singular homes or commercial applications, as that is our goal at Container of Dreams, to initiate a Container Housing Development. More and more of these are springing up every day all over the globe, so I'll start with a few ground-breaking examples before I move into the more recent and exciting offerings in later posts.
Esperanza Farmworker Housing - 1990's
One of the first documented projects to use shipping containers for community housing is Esperanza Farmworker Housing in Mattawa, Washington in the United States of America. Considered to be ground-breaking, it was constructed and operated by the local housing authority of Grant County in the 1990s. The community was made up of 26 converted 40 foot shipping containers. These containers were transformed into housing units with the inclusion of windows, air-conditioning and heating. Kitchen and bathroom facilities were also installed. This provided 240 beds for seasonal farm workers.
The cyclic influx of migrant workers requiring housing was overwhelming small agricultural communities in the USA, often resulting in the lack of accessible safe and affordable housing. Each year hundreds of itinerant workers and their families resort to camping illegally, creating serious health and safety risks. Esperanza was one of the first developments to address the shortage of seasonal farmworker housing in rural USA. The container homes have since been removed to make way for new, updated buildings and site amenities.
Future Shack - 1984
Australian architect, Sean Godsell, claims to have designed one of the first repurposed shipping container houses in 1984, which he titled Future Shack, for use as emergency shelter. It was intended to be mass produced and stockpiled for deployment in natural disasters or times of conflict. Godsell believes that architects have social responsibilities and designed the Future Shack to respond to this obligation.
The building is designed around the shell of a shipping container with very little alteration made to the exterior of the original container. The interior is lined with plywood and features in-built furniture. Future Shack is entirely self-contained, packed with solar power, water tanks and even a satellite receiver. The design is simple and efficient, using minimal materials to allow for mass production, ease of deployment and affordability.
Tempohousing - 2006
Tempohousing in The Netherlands are considered pioneers in the field of container housing. What initially began as a means to address a student housing shortage in Amsterdam, Tempohousing has now expanded into new territories including hotels and social housing. They have completed several successful large scale projects including Keetwonen, the largest container community in the world. Their student housing developments are ideal examples of successful containerised accommodation models.
Keetwonen was completed in 2006 and was originally built as a temporary housing experiment. In acknowledgement of its success, Amsterdam authorities granted the development permanent status in 2011. Keetwonen’s extraordinary success has captivated both architects and housing organisations around the globe who are looking for inexpensive solutions to address deficiencies in housing provision.
The Keetwonen project consists of twelve separate accommodation blocks. Each block consists of individual container units arranged in stacks of five high and varying in lengths to accommodate a total of 1034 modules. The development also houses a supermarket, café, launderette, office spaces and even a basketball field.
Richardson’s Yard - 2013
Brighton Housing Trust in the United Kingdom has established a housing project on a vacant lot of land with the aim to provide temporary accommodation to some of the city’s homeless. The development, shown during construction phase in the image, consists of 36 shipping container homes placed on a former scrap metal yard, known as Richardson’s Yard. Andy Winter, CEO of Brighton Housing Trust, understands that some people will have reservations about the idea of housing people in containers. The concept can invoke images of people being transported in appalling conditions by people traffickers or being held in overcrowded warehouses. Winter initially thought the idea was an April fool’s joke and that “…we had lost all concept of decency” but soon altered his standpoint once he considered how it could transform people’s lives. The people being housed in the units also find the idea of being self-contained much more desirable than the sharing of facilities in sheltered accommodation or share houses.
After some initial teething problems concerning anti-social behaviour and effective insulation, the project has been declared as remarkably successful. Winter believes that this type of housing could be more widely used to address housing affordability issues including using them as starter flats for young people, “We’re all on a housing journey. For some people, having their own place with their own front door is a great first step” (Winter 2015).
Oneesan Container Housing Project - 2014
CEO of Canada’s Atira Women’s Resource Society, Janice Abbott, always maintained conviction regarding the concept of utilising upcycled containers and declares that their project proves "how liveable small spaces can be". The agency studied the cost of container housing and believed it to be cheaper and faster in terms of construction, as well as environmentally friendly.
The Oneesan project in Vancouver was created as a housing prototype and accommodates twelve women in twelve containers on three levels. It is an outstanding example of a container community and has won acclaim from both the community and industry for its innovation and sustainability including an International Best Practice Award for Innovation in Housing. The Oneesan project was Canada’s first development of recycled shipping containers and the residences are so popular that additional developments are already in the pipeline, including the tallest container-housing complex in North America. Atira’s strong social values have made them leaders in the area of social innovation. Atira acknowledges that by being the first and now to be the tallest has aided in raising the profile of their organisation.
Onagawa Temporary Housing Project - 2011
Shigeru Ban has made considerable works exploring temporary housing, addressing humanitarian relief and designed the Onagawa Temporary Housing Project in Miyagi, Japan in 2011 after the country's devastating earthquake.
The interim housing development is made up of repurposed shipping containers. Containers were chosen by Shigeru Ban for this application to speed construction. These were stacked three stories high and assembled in a chequerboard pattern. This arrangement enabled the creation of open and airy living spaces in between the containers and offered outstanding seismic performance. Shigeru Ban considered the standard government issued temporary housing to be inadequate and insufficient so conceived the idea of the container housing to counter this failure. He expected this style of housing to become a precedent and translate into an improvement in Japan’s delivery of evacuation facilities and temporary housing therefore developing new government standards. Consistent with my own convictions, Ban also believes that this form of housing doesn’t need to be temporary and can certainly be used for permanent residences.
This concludes part two - in the next installment I will examine the down side to containerised dwellings and why they suffer from a bit of an identity crisis.
Thanks for reading!