Box homes around the globe

container home
Cheap is beautiful

The architecture world has long been in love with shipping containers as homes, but Australian politicians seem unaware of this trend.
Container Homes, known in Australia as Dongers (careful, Mum, don’t do an internet search for this word) have got Ozzie MPs hot under the collar. Laborite Shane Hill says it is not Australian to put people into the disused sea containers converted to accommodation for as little as 20,000 Ozzie dollars (about $15,000 US).

He says he has been discussing his concerns with the Minister for Housing and Works, Michelle Roberts.

Because some containers are shipped so far that the cost of returning them exceeds the cost of replacement, several companies have started recycling them to produce homes. Dongers are extremely strong and their standard shape means that houses can be created quickly in a number of configurations and sizes.

The container in our picture is being prepared for habitation in the Amazon rainforest by a team of scientists. They outline exactly how they did it on the web site The site has received 3 million visits so far.

0691123241-01-_scthumbzzz_v40878780_-4920033“The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” – buy it from Amazon

Architect Adam Kalkin’s Quik House, employs five containers, while Lot-EK’s CHK (Container Home Kit) uses varying numbers of units and can even include a swimming pool. Australian architect Sean Godsell has also produced Future Shack, a self-contained refuge in a single container for use during disasters.

In the past few months Japanese casual clothing retailer Uniqlo has used the modular transportation units to house a series of temporary stores in New York that have helped to herald the opening of a showcase store in the city. And last December Miami was the venue for “Art Positions”, an exhibition of artworks housed in 20 of the steel boxes.

Royal Wolf, a West Australian company selling the converted containers has reported a sharp sales increase on the back of the state’s housing shortage.

“We’d be approaching 100 units in 12 months that have been supplied to either mining industry, construction industry, some residential. If you go and look at the inside you’ll be surprised at how pleasant and comfortable they can be.”

In Victoria Canada, residential designer Keith Dewey is in the process of transforming eight of the discarded corrugated metal boxes into a 2,000-square-foot luxury home in funky Fernwood, one of Victoria’s oldest areas.

While some neighbours might consider the container house “weird” or “ugly,” for Dewey, who will live there with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, the house is the ultimate example of reduce-reuse-recycle — his main motivation for the creation.

“My concept here is to make use of something that’s destined for the scrap yard,” says the 37-year-old who studied architecture and environmental design at Ryerson University and the Ontario College of Art. “And it’s reducing the amount of other building materials that would have been used.”

Not only are shipping containers environmentally friendly building blocks, they are also sturdy and inexpensive — Dewey paid about $3,000 each for his. And they make for a quick and simple construction process — it took less than a month from pouring the foundation to finishing the framing of Dewey’s house, using the Lego-like modules.

Dewey says, “I think this will be the go-to house when the Big One (earthquake) hits.”

When it’s completed in late summer, the house will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan main floor (with kitchen, dining room and living room), five balconies, a full basement, laundry room and storage area. Added luxuries, such as in-floor heating, a 91/2-foot ceiling in the master bedroom (thanks to a curved steel roof) and high-end appliances are also in the plans.

The inside walls will be insulated with about two inches of spray foam between the corrugated metal and drywall. “From the inside, it will look like a normal house,” says Dewey. “Outside, we’re going to keep it steel but we’re going to sand it and paint it.”

Interior designer Julia Roemer says the home’s interior will have a “contemporary industrial” look, featuring metal and concrete elements in keeping with the exterior. “But the finished product won’t feel like you’re living in a tin can,” she says. “It’s not really that different from a regular house.”

Roemer acknowledges that living in a metal shipping container house isn’t for everyone. “It’s definitely a home for a modern family. It’s a very European style of living. Everyone has a bedroom, but the common areas are quite small. There’s no great room, no rumpus room, no media room. The living area is humble but completely adequate.”

She sees this type of “innovative” housing as something the entire building community should pay attention to. “With all this crazy building going on, this is just keeping it simple.”

In recent years, shipping containers have been used to create temporary, emergency and disaster housing; in Africa and Jamaica, containers have become schools; in Scotland and California, the steel structures are used as artists’ studios; in South Africa a hostel was built from the charmless metal boxes; and a travelling exhibition in the U.S. is housed in a travelling container-built museum.

The largest example of container architecture is a five-storey, 34-unit project in London, England, called Container City. This colourful live-work space for artists, built from 45 of the 40-foot containers, was completed in 2002.

One Response

  1. For Some Architects,
    TheICEAlity of Sustaiable Building is Easy.

    “Andere Länder, andere Sitten”

    An exhibit on ecologically friendly architecture in Germany just began a world tour. It highlights the country’s position at the forefront of a growing movement in ‘green’ building techniques started at the EXPO2000, The Worlds Fair held in Hanover, Germany that was promoted in the America by the US Network for EXPO2000.

    The German architect and engineer Werner Sobek has made quite a splash with his home, called R128, which he completed in 2000. The house — perched on a hillside in Stuttgart — is made entirely of glass, allowing unobstructed
    views over four full stories. It also relies exclusively on infrared sensors instead of handles, with doors popping open and faucets shutting on and off at the wave of a hand.

    But while R128 has received plenty of press coverage for its radical design, the architect himself stresses its importance in another area: as part of an increasing trend toward ‘sustainable’ German architecture

    R 128 is one of nine buildings featured in the exhibit “Made in Germany: Architecture & Ecology”, which opened in Barcelona on July 6, and will travel to 14 other cities before it closes, in April 2006.

    The buildings featured range from personal homes, such as R128 and a solar-housing settlement near Freiburg, to a daycare center whose roof collects rainwater used to flush the toilets, to a ‘zero energy’ subterranean train station (lit by cathedral-like skylights at ground level). There is also a “zero emissions factory,” a high rise that makes use of thermal energy, and the “Heliotrope,” a solar-energy powered building that rotates to follow the sun.

    Combining old and modern

    As diverse as they are stylistic, the buildings in this exhibit share a strong penchant for using renewable energy sources, like the sun, wind, and thermal air. Some architects returned to old-fashioned building-preserving techniques, such as enhancing the use of trapped air for insulation, while
    others relied entirely on cutting-edge building components and newly developed engineering methods.
    One thing these buildings do have in common: it took a client with interests in furthering the cause of ‘green’ architecture to get the job done. This is because, while it may pay off in the long run, ecological architecture is usually expensive to build.
    “Solar components pay themselves off in about 15 years, and photovoltaic roofs for generating electricity can pay off in around 20 years, but only because of strong state subventions,” says Prof. Fried Ranft, of the Aachen based ecological-architecture firm Casa.
    Ecological building is a growth industry, Ranft says. This is because “people realize it pays off, cost wise. Plus, they feel good about themselves, they feel good in their home.”
    Sobek, who built R128, refuses to say what it cost for him to build. But he does say that the design stemmed from his desire making “ephemeral architecture,” — architecture that can be removed by future generations without leaving any waste behind.

    Germany in the forefront

    In 2002, a similar exhibit in the United States — called Ten Shades of Green — featured nine instances of ecological architecture from around the world. Of these, four were German. This overwhelming presence is a testament to a general interest in conservation in Germany, and to considerable government financial support.
    German policy – in the form of legislation, R&D investment, and financial advantages for builders encourages the use of renewable resources. One key to this is the Renewable Energy Sources Act, supports builders seeking to make use of regenerative raw materials – i.e, installing a boilers that use scrap-wood pellets instead of oil. Low cost loans and other perks are funded on many levels, from state and local all the way up through Europe-wide programs.

    According to the German Environment Ministry, renewable energies are responsible for around 2.9 per cent of the total energy provision in Germany today. The stated aim is to double the share of renewables in the energy supply to 4.2 percent by 2010, from its level of 2.1 percent in 2000, and the share in gross electricity consumption from 6.3% in 2000 to 12.5% in 2010.
    But while good for the environment, ecologically-friendly buildings are not automatically beautiful or interesting to look at. However, this is not the case with those in the exhibit.
    “When most people think of German architecture, they still think of Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. We wanted to show that German architecture has gone beyond Bauhaus,” said Dr. Barbara Honrath, of the Munich Goethe Institute, which organized the exhibit.

    In Cleveland, the historic ARK in Berea, is the first structure in Cuyahoga County to incorporate environmental art and sustainable German building concepts from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, it inaugurated the green building trend that is now sweeping America. The Cleveland Green Building Coalition is direct spin-off from the EXPO2000 Worlds Fair. Other major aspects from EXPO2000 are the renewable energy windmill display in downtown Cleveland and at the Great Lakes Brewery.

    “When most people think of German technology, we wanted to show that the International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA)is leading the way for Cleveland and the World into the 21st Century” says ICEA founder David Jakupca.

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