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The Shipping Container Movement

Sourced from Architecture & Design

Shipping container architecture has recently overrun a market, whereby its affordability and easy construction have architects and clients discovering new ways to convert cargo units into homes.


Proof of its rising popularity lies in Container Atlas, by Han Slawik, Julia Bergmann and Matthias Buchmeier.


This book depicts the recontextualisation of shipping containers in architecture through showcasing a variety of projects, alongside a practical manual for laypeople and professionals.


“In 2006, architect Peter DeMaria designed the first two-story shipping container home in the U.S. as an approved structural system under the strict guidelines of the national recognised Uniform Building Code,” according to ArchDaily.


Which was 17 years after its patent was granted, the diagrams which were initially filed by Phillip C. Clark in 1987 laying its groundwork for future experimenters such as DeMaria.

Some refer to it as Cargo Container Architecture, others refer to it as Container Urbanism, no matter the title, its concept is essentially one dimensional: a cheap alternative to traditional housing. But is it as green as it’s deemed?


Now, considered a fad in modern architecture, creating a habitable structure out of shipping containers requires more energy than one may initially think, ultimately, contributing to a greater ecological footprint.


“The coatings used to make the containers durable for ocean transport also happen to contain a number of harmful chemicals such as chromate, phosphorous, and lead-based paints,” ArchDaily.


“Moreover, wood floors that line the majority of shipping container buildings are infused with hazardous chemical pesticides like arsenic and chromium to keep pests away.”

Furtherto, the energy required to sandblast, replace floors, torch or fireman saw openings and fossil fuels required to move the container with heavy machinery makes this ‘low-energy’ alternative, perhaps, one to think twice about.


There are opposing views, saying that the surplus of shipping containers sitting at ports or docks take up space and remain unused, as buying new ones from Asia is cheaper than shipping a used cargo container back to its origin.


The view that architects can recycle the materials may seem cheaper than building the average home, but in some cases “it is cheaper and [uses] less energy to build a similarly scaled structure using wood framing.”

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