The use of shipping containers as a highly sustainable and cleverly modern architectural structure is growing in popularity as the green building trend continues to expand. Functionally, both new and used containers offer a sturdy structural foundation and have been increasingly used due to their functional, flexible and affordable nature.
However, even if these structures are habitable, can they ever truly be comfortable? How can the industrial shipping container function as a home, a shopping centre and even a restaurant when the interiors are built for inanimate objects?
As a growing number of interior designers can attest, they can meet these objectives with simple and effective fitouts.
Issues facing interior designers when it comes to working with a shipping container shell are varied but definitely not insurmountable.
First and foremost is the issue of insulation. The structural form is basically a steel shell. The containers can get boiling hot when out in direct sunlight and freezing in cold weather due to their barely-present insulator qualities. In order to tackle this in a sustainable way, designers heavily insulate the ‘skeleton’ of the container with straw – as in the case of ‘Greehouse’ by Joost, or other sustainable insulators. Due to the small geometric space, complete insulation can achieved easily and strongly aids in the comfortable, natural climate control of these spaces.
A second key issue is possible contamination of the container. Due to the highly industrial nature of shipping containers, if recycled, some may have chemical residue and spills. This can be handled through industrial cleaning of the space. Furthermore, when it comes to the common recycled container, the flooring is always replaced. This also provides functional benefits, allowing the container to be laid on a slab or other permanent surface.
Design and Possible Limitations:
While the very distinct aesthetic of the container may seem to limit design possibilities, it can in fact do the exact opposite. The functional layout of the containers enables them to be stacked in various positions creating endless layout possibilities. By playing up the urban, industrial interiors, a highly modern and unique atmosphere can be created.
This is evident in Pedro Scattarella’s pizzeria ‘Los Sopranos Restaurant’ in Barcelona. Instead of hiding the corrugated walls of the containers used as a frame for the restaurant, the architect embraced the urbanity of the materials with which he was working and instead created a highly functional, sustainable urban space that denotes the relaxed ‘coolness’ that comes with embracing raw materials.
While it may seem almost alien for some in this industry to link comfort and containers, simple fitouts make it possible. By working logically, if a little left of centre, sustainable design can be comfortable, functional and highly unique.