Since their inception, sustainable design alternatives have often become synonymous with innovation. Due to the modernity of the concept, all things labelled “green” seen to come with the assurance of originality. No other concept on the same scale represents this idea quite like the shipping container.
For more than fifty years the shipping container has been used just as its name suggest. To ship goods, from car to corn, from one part of the world to another. Sustainable innovators have taken this structure and transformed it into a sustainable living space, going so far as to create the movement of “shipping container architecture”. Not only is this movement a progressive design statement, it is developing sustainable living options that are incredibly inexpensive.
The cost of a shipping container can be anywhere from $1200 recycled, to no more than $6000 brand new. There are however costs attached to the cutting of steel and slight modifications to make the container liveable, both of which still add together to be less than the cost of traditional housing. Due to their status as global tools, the ease in which containers are sourced and moved due to their shape is also incredibly appealing. Their modular shape mirrors modern modular housing, with empty containers able to be stacked up to 12 high.
The idea of pre-fabricated, recycled building materials has been all too appealing to some major commercial ventures as well. The internationally renowned “Greenhouse” by artist, designer and environmentalist Joost Bakker has been completely fitted out in a number of pre-fabricated, recycled shipping containers. The zero waste, temporary and mobile restaurant sponsored by Arup used stacked containers to create the structure for the restaurant.
In Amsterdam, and entire community has been created out of the containers. The Keetwonen Complex houses up to 1,000 students in its community of stacked shipping containers. Each unit is centrally heated, has separate bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and study area (with high speed internet access) and has floor to ceiling rear windows. Students are said to be so happy with the buildings warmth, comfort and quiet that the complex’s lease has been extended from its completion in 2006 to 2016.
Issues that do arise in these facilities are those of insulation. They will need more attention to this process, although, as shown by “Greenhouse” by Joost, they are sufficiently insulated using straw as a key insulator. They must also have their floors removed safely to remain in line with building regulations, and recycled containers will need to be stripped of their original paint and re-painted to avoid excess toxicity.
For some, this is not a new concept. In fact, third world societies have been resourceful enough to repurpose shipping containers for their needs for almost as long as they have been around.
In an industry environment that is moving increasing towards sustainable structures, the shipping containers offer an environmentally friendly option that is both accessible and cheap. These buildings have the ability to replace a number of temporary or fixed structures, in turn finding a way to work sustainably without it hitting industry’s hip pocket.