As sustainable design becomes a standard code of practice among architects, the use of discarded shipping containers has surfaced as a popular building component. In the past, I have written about numerous projects, from homes to restaurants, which have used this method of construction. This new movement, coined as “cargotecture” presents a new architectural framework that upholds values of reusing and recycling.
WHY USE CONTAINERS?
For starters, they are inexpensive. Their ready-to-go nature allows architects to extend from its four walls rather than have to build ground up. An empty container can range from $2,800 to $4,800 depending on size, which rounds off to a relatively low-cost option for custom architecture. Along with its affordable price tag, it is versatile. The containers have a sturdy, weather-resistant body which means it can be used for everything from pop-up restaurants to new-generation disaster relief housing.
ADAPTING GREEN DESIGN
Its versatility allows the containers to be used as low-impact building blocks. They serve to accommodate energy-efficient spaces, where high-quality insulation installations and open-air ventilation can lower overall energy usage to par with traditional homes. Their flat surfaces mean that solar paneling can easily be installed atop of these containers, a popular and affordable option for home owners who have saved thousands in building materials.
Joel Egan, principal of HyBrid Architecture, the firm who coined “cargotecture” in 2004, believes that this approach has prevailed as a fitting option for home buyers and builders, saying:
“Given these turbulent economic times and the desire for more sustainable buildings, cargotecture is a unique way to build affordable, modern and green. The buildings can also be picked up and moved to a different site which has definite advantages in the current market.”
With Egan, New Jersey-based architect, Adam Kalkin is another leading visionary in the field, having already taken upon a breadth of projects from luxury homes to mobile museums using these pre-fabricated building blocks. His ‘12 container house’ is perhaps one of his more inventive undertakings given the sheer scale of the project. The house, located in Maine, covers close to 4000 square feet. The dozen containers were used primarily as a supporting body for a glazed glass structure that would front both sides of the home.
Along with being used for luxurious homes, as illustrated by Kalkin’s works, they serve as the ideal temporary sites for disaster relief housing. The Green Container International Aid have spearheaded this movement, building cargo homes for countries that have been affected by natural disasters from Pakistan to Haiti, through the guidance of Richard Moreta, a pioneering American architect. In 2010, he envisioned the ‘Amphibious Container,’ a floating home supported by recycled inner tubes from trucks, designed to rise with floods. The structure, made of discarded construction parts, is also fitted with multiple environmental features such as wind turbines, green roofs and solar panels. As he explains:
“Because shipping containers are in essence a structural shell, they prove to be an excellent solution in seismic, hurricane and now with the amphibious design in flood areas while satisfying the American and international structural code provisions.”
After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Moreta proposed to build a container city to shelter displaced victims of the earthquake, a bold initiative that has since been approved by Dominican authorities. Building vast cargo cities is, of course, no new concept, seeing as architects have already ventured into constructing full-scale neighborhoods in numerous cities from London to the quaint Mexican town of Puebla. But Moreta’s vision is to not only build a temporary housing site, but rather build homes that are equipped to withstand and combat future disasters with its efficient zero-energy design.
That is perhaps the magical part of these containers; they have captured the imagination of architects and designers in a way that and inspires green design across the spectrum from humanitarian causes to contemporary architecture.