Shipping Container Architecture Fulfilling Its Potential
Across the Atlantic, in Ireland, the dire economic climate has put owning your their own homes far out of the reach of many. This has forced homeowners, architects and property developers to come up with fresh solutions and view the problem from a different angle.
The Cargotecture Revolution
Back in the late nineties, we began to see the transformation of Corten steel shipping containers into a low-cost source of housing. What was once seen as a quirky idea has since gained traction and spread out from its roots in the US and Australia, to steadily encompass the globe. Architects and interior designers have truly embraced the concept, turned on by the utilitarian shapes of Conex boxes and the vast potential of building not just homes but exciting spaces for business. And there’s no shortage of construction materials, with one recent estimate putting the number of redundant shipping containers on the planet as 30 million!
Conex Boxes Provide Cost-Effective Solutions to Building New Homes
The various types of shipping container on the market add real flexibility. A standard Conex box is 8- feet-6-inches, but the ‘high cube’ version stands a foot taller, offering extra headroom. Naturally, engineers are well capable of removing walls and roofs to expand spaces and allow for staircases. They can also weld units together, to provide much larger living areas. The inherent stackability and structural integrity of all steel shipping containers means that erecting buildings of several storeys is perfectly feasible. The relatively low cost of the building materials adds to their allure.
Innovative Social Housing Project Arrives in Dublin
Although common throughout most US ststes ‘Project Ripple’ was believed to be the first shipping container home to be fully compliant with Ireland’s stringent building regulations and was granted planning permission by the local housing authority. It was built on land owned by the Dublin Museum of Modern Art over just three days and made possible by the donations of time, materials and skills from 65 tradespeople and other professionals. On completion, it was handed over to an international charity that addresses homelessness, St Vincent de Paul, to be used as an emergency housing unit.
The modern unit, designed for a small family by local architects, benefits from micro-heat recovery units, back boilers and solar panels, to provide hot water and heating. Many shipping containers are insulated, originally to protect goods from spoiling, and this feature makes them ideal for constructing buildings and keeps heating bills low in winter.
The Potential of Shipping Container Architecture is Huge
Project Ripple has been such a success that government is looking at using it to provide cheap but attractive student accommodation in Dublin and other Irish cities, inspired by successful examples in Amsterdam, Stockholm and Berlin.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, a new student village is described as ‘Lego-style’, thanks to its modular, shipping container construction. Built on an old industrial site on the River Clyde, it uses no less than 500 blue Conex boxes and rises an impressive seven storeys high. Each self-contained unit was fitted-out and imported from China via Southampton Docks, and comprises of a lounge, bedroom, small kitchen and bathroom. A 500-tonne crane was used to lift them in place. The complete installation with all utilities took just 10 weeks for start to finish. The complex even boasts a cinema, karaoke room and helter-skelter! With attractive cladding in place, the building’s shipping container DNA is completely disguised.
These are just a couple of successful European projects but the whole cargotecture boom continues unabated throughout the USA, from California to Florida, Texas to Maine.