Buildings made from shipping containers, affectionately referred to as ‘containertecture’, offer a sustainable and eye-catching solution to modern building design. In a world where sustainability in architecture is key and buildings need to be built quickly and efficiently, can containertecture offer a viable solution?

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Would you build a home from a container?

Projects

All over the world, containers have been used for architectural projects. From “tiny homes” to more ambitious projects like the student residence Résidence Étudiants, Adock, Le Havre. In Nigeria, in 2017, the container homes market was worth a predicted $44.76 billion (€39,75 billion) and this is set to rise to $73.07 billion (€64.89 billion) by 2025. Meanwhile, in China, NetDragon has plans to build ‘pop-up classrooms’. The Egyptian government is said to be buying 265,000 of these. There’s even one guy who built a castle with containers.

Steel City Container Skyscraper

If you thought that you were limited to 2-3 story buildings, then you’d be wrong. Steel City is a concept design by CRG Architects that demonstrates the flexibility of container buildings. The project seeks to help solve the overcrowding problems in the Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India. The two towers would be 200 m – 78 floors and 400 m – 139 floors high. If completed, it would provide homes to around 1,400 families.

steel city containitecture
Image credit: CRG Architects

Steel City would be constructed from horizontal containers arranged around a central elevator shaft. The shaft itself would be made from vertical containers.

The irregular, cylindrical shape maximizes the views available from the apartments. This is because the windows need to be placed on the shortest side of the container to maintain structural integrity. The arrangement also allows for air to flow between the containers, both decreasing wind resistance and providing air cooling. Concrete would make up the remainder of the structure.

Recycling used shipping container modules which are cheap and fairly available in a port city like Mumbai, gives us the chance to revitalize such a socially deprived area and contribute to a housing solution. – CRG Architects

The design embraces the naturally colorful nature of shipping containers. The warmer colors would be placed on the south side of the building and the cooler to the north. And maybe the best part? The containers are to be lifted up using drones! Who needs flying cars when you have flying houses?

The Joshua Tree Residence

Another highly unusual proposal is the Joshua Tree Residence – Whitaker Studio. It’s based on another design by same studio – Hechingen Studio. Again this design focuses on maximizing the views and light avalible.

containertecture joshua tree residence
Image credit: Hechingen Studio

What’s most striking about this design is the arrangement of the containers. They poke out from the ground like hedgehog quills. Stark contrast to the boxy, Minecraftesque container design we’re accustomed to. The results is a highly unusual and stunning interior.

containertecture joshua tree residence
Image credit: Hechingen Studio

The cardboard cathedral

And it’s not just housing that gets the container treatment. The cardboard cathedral, Christchurch Central City, New Zeland, designed by Shigery Ban, was built in 2013 when the church on the former site was damaged beyond repair. It’s made from 8 shipping containers with 60 cm (24″) cardboard tubes supporting a polycarbonate roof. Originally the design called for the cardboard tubes to be hollow, but it was necessary to reinforce these with wooden beams.

準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia via Flickr

Why build with containers?

One of the benefits of building with containers is that they are a cheap and freely available commodity.  Around 1/3 of ocean containers in circulation at any one time are empty because many counties import more than they export. This costs the industry a predicted $20 billion (€894,000) a year. Containers hit headlines last year when in November 2018, due to the “trade war” between China and the US, imports into America broke records. As a result, containers mounted up in docks across the west coast of America.

Container City, Canning Town, England container shipping containertecture
Container City, Canning Town, England

Containers fit on the back of tucks, which makes them easy to transport. This means that houses, buildings, and even hospitals, can be prefabricated and loaded up. Perfect for emergency situations. You can even include the materials and tools that are required for creating the foundations inside the container. When you’re finished simply, pack everything back in the container.

The problem with containers

As great as containertecture is, there are also problems when designing buildings with containers. When it comes to energy efficiency, containers can leave you wanting. Thermal performance is an issue. If you want to live in a container, you need to insulate it properly.

Condensation and ventilation are also important considerations and it isn’t a simple case of cutting holes into the containers. Maintaining structural integrity is important. Remove too much material and the container will collapse. A particular problem when you stack the containers.

CU Boulder-built home, made from shipping containers and other eco-friendly materials. Image credit: cuboulderbuilthome_container.jpg DJBrianE

And of course, there are disadvantages to building with used goods. Containers are made from steel. This means that they are extremely strong, but also very susceptible to rust. They are also transported around the world, consequently, they suffer high winds, salt water damage, and are lifted on and off ships repeatedly. As a result, by the time they are sold, they are often leaking and damaged.

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containertecture Shape bricscad container building
Why not design your own containertecture using BricsCAD Shape?

TL;DR

Projects that use containertecture; Steel City – a 200 m high solution for the overcrowded slums in India, Cardboard Cathedral – a church made from 8 containers and cardboard tubes, and the Joshua Tree Residence – an abstractly shaped building. Containers are a sustainable and easy to transport solution for buildings. To make containers liveable, adaptations must be made.