As the world population grows and the world’s resources continue to deplete, architects are having to reimagine how people can exist – and they are turning to the humble shipping container. HEKKTA investigates if this growing trend is just smart design, or whether shipping containers can be a viable solution.
You might be thinking – my first home, a shipping container? Or even my new office? Could never have meetings at mine! However, the work of some very talented designers and architects have been shocking people around the world, bringing to light what you can achieve with such limited space.
Several firms have been creating these containers for different purposes.
A German start-up company called Containerwerk were showcasing their container homes at Milan design week, with a prototype of their idea open to the public on Via Tortona. The show home comprised of two storeys of stacked shipping containers, fully furnished with a luxury look.
“We are in Milan to show what you can do with containers,” Containerwerk managing director Michael Haiser says.
The company Containerwerk adapt the recycled shipping containers and make them suitable to live or work in. To do this, they line the steel boxes with a layer of foam insulation. The start-up claims its process is much faster and more efficient than traditional methods of insulating containers.
Co-founder Ivan Mallinowski explains, “Insulation is the big problem with building houses with containers.”
“If you look at the physics of a container, it is made from steel and steel is a very good heat conductor. We build a special type of insulation. It’s a monolithic insulation, made by an industrial process and surrounds the whole container inside without any heat bridges.”
“We can build very thin walls so that the space in the container is as big as possible,” he says.
The thin insulation means that the walls in the containers are only 10cm thick! This allows architects to maximise the space that’s available to them.
To allow movement between levels, they simply stack two containers on top of another, and the luxury furniture combined with intelligent design has people stunned when they walk through the show home.
“When people look around they say, ‘I never thought you could do this in a container,'” says Containerwerk head of design Christine Schaal.
Click here to take a walk around the shipping container created by Containerwerk x Friends.
Shipping containers have also been reinvented to serve as offices, and in Amsterdam, there has even been a village created out of them. After helping to create the south London container park, Pop Brixton, which turned an disused plot into a base for events and independent business, Dutch architect Julius Taminiau decided to go a little further.
He saw the potential in containers as they provide cheap alternatives for start-up companies who wish to operate in major cities, allowing them to compete with the big boys with a far smaller rent fee.
Taminiau founded Julius Taminiau Architects and decided to transfer what he learned in London and create something in his home country. He found a disused piece of land in Amsterdam and created Startup Village, which now sits in the Amsterdam Science Park. It is a village of shipping containers, all linking together, creating a hub for fledgling companies.
Taminiau’s idea of a collection of containers built together creates a community that was otherwise lacking in the container concept. Rather than feeling like you’re isolated inside a small container, linking them all together around a courtyard encourages interaction and the sharing of ideas, which are very important in helping young companies flourish. They can share resources and work with each other aswell, meaning it becomes it’s own small community of business minds and entrepreneurs.
The walls are all properly insulated and windows are inserted so you’re not living or working in the dark! Obviously lighting is put in the containers and there are proper heaters aswell. So the worry one may have about whether they are weather friendly is not something you need to think about. Containers can be decorated and arranged just like any other office, and the combination of several containers together can create large spaces aswell.
“The shipping container as a metaphor for a garage in which a lot of big companies had their first office, like Apple and Microsoft,” the architect said in his statement.
“By placing all these ‘garages’ next to each other a dynamic village arises. The startups will inspire, collaborate across sectors, exchange knowledge and produce unexpected and paradigm-shifting creations.”
In the Startup village, there is an open air communal square in the heart, and there is also a covered room, in which conferances and meetings can take place. Additionally there are coffee shops and food spots dotted around within the containers.
One of the biggest advantages of using containers is the speed of assembly. The structures created are mostly temporary, and provide an excellent quick-fix option.
Containerwerk’s entire structure only took two days to assemble on site, having been prefabricated in Germany. The company’s head of design, Christine Schaal, says that the speed of construction is one of the key benefits of using shipping containers in architecture, together with their inherent mobility.
“We have a solution to build quickly,” she says, “And I think the younger generations are not interested in building their house and living there for the next fifty years – they are more interested in being mobile.”
Taminiau also references this point, and adds that the assembly of the containers allows the architect to be creative.
“The shipping containers can be clad and placed in many different ways, which makes the shipping container quite an interesting architectural element to build quick and low-cost sculptural and spatial temporary building,” explained Taminiau.
Another key benfit of the containers is their sustainability. Because there are no foundation piles, only concrete tiles that the containers have been placed upon, when the village is eventually taken apart, everything can be reused and no trace will be left.
Mallinowski adds to this, explaining how they only use used containers, ones that will otherwise be scrapped.
“The biggest advantage [of using shipping containers] is sustainability, because we only use used containers,” he says. “A lot of containers come from China to Europe. If we don’t use them, they are thrown away.”
Schaal adds, “I like the idea that we don’t need to use more and more materials and instead up-cycle existing material. I think this is the most important part of what we’re doing.”
The speed and ease of assembly, combined with the sustainability factor has convinced us here at HEKKTA. Containers really are a viable solution! When you get over the fact you would be living/working in a steel box, the benefits are really impossible to ignore. Our cities are expanding at such a rate, that the capacity strain is starting to become a real issue. London’s housing crisis is constantly dominating property headlines, and whilst we are seeing housing being built, it is not quite at the rate necessary.
Containers can provide temporary homes to those who would otherwise be in council housing or on the street, and they can be built anywhere you like for a temporary purpose. They could also be an exellent way to provide shelter for the homeless, and as mentioned before, they give young companies a cheaper alternative than the pricey London rent fees.
Schemes like Containerwerk and Startup Village could really be pointing us towards a better future, however they are just a couple of the many projects currently utilising containers. Pop Brixton is a prime example of the benefits of the container’s fast assembly. A bustling market of food and drink, it has proved very popular for Londoners, try new foods or simply share some drinks with mates. It has certainly been a success and the model of it is being copied all over London.
London-based designer James Whitaker has also created an abstract house in the Californian desert for a film producer and his wife using just sheet-white containers.