Thanks to an explosion of innovation and creativity, those corrugated behemoths that were once only found in ferry ports or riding on top of 18 wheels will now take on a much greater role in our lives. All things considered, it looks like the humble shipping container is set to become THE big thing among architects and designers.
These containers are appearing everywhere, in every shape and form: office blocks, street-shops, luxury country houses and even as pop-up hospitals and schools in disaster regions such as Haiti. With countless nspirations and variations, the renovated shipping container is not only a versatile and eco-friendly shell, but it also has that transcendental, intangible quality: cool.
The advantages of the shipping container as a design initiative are manifold. They are by no means in short supply and can be easily transported around the world (incidentally, the reason for their being). At an average price of about $2,500, shipping containers provide a quick, easy and cheap method of construction, avoiding the use of precious timber or expensive steel. Their innate stackability also makes it easy to build housing where new apartments can simply be tacked on top of existing ones, facilitating expansion.
But perhaps the most beneficent use of shipping containers is for the speedy construction of schools and hospitals. Shipping containers remove the complexities of building from scratch, as they require few materials and very little funding. Like mannah from heaven, these containers can be plonked anywhere they are needed. For example, a youth center in London made from seven containers took just one day to construct, but will provide decades of opportunity to young people in a disadvantaged area. Also London’s Container City provides a template for how container living can be a solution to housing deficits in densely-populated cities.
The use of shipping containers in various forms also has great potential to bridge social gaps, as both multi-millionairs in their uber trendy Carribean hideouts and 20-strong families in the slums of Jakarta could have houses constructed of the same recycled containers.
With thousands of projects still on paper, it is exciting to see what our architects will create with this real-life Lego. As with the timeless children’s toy, the possibilities are endless, and in this case, so are the benefits.