From Then To Now : Shipping Container Homes

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 9:07 PM

The idea to use shipping containers for housing first came about due to the surplus of empty containers around the United States. America imports finished good; it seems to have given up on manufacturing it's own goods. Their goods are imported using container ships which are emptied and then refilled with the exports. However, the number of imports far out way the exports so empty shipping containers are filling the ports.

The idea came about to use the containers as living spaces, something that seemed to be developed only because of its novelty, and experiential qualities. Places like Container City, London and the Amsterdam student housing projects were a perfect example of this. They probably wouldn't have been as successful if it wasn't for their novelty. However these projects should our human ingenuity; we were faced with a problem and we came up with a reasonable, economical and logical solution. Which seemed to benefit all those involved. People had houses, ports were cleared and there were clear ecological benefits.

As of late the idea of using shipping containers as suitable housing has further developed. Some companies have now taken this idea and applied it to the redevelopment of underdeveloped parts of the world. A company that started out as a college design competition is now set to produce instant houses for poorer folks in Mexico.

The idea is simple, they get surplus cheap shipping containers from the U.S. and retrofit these containers into instant houses that they can ship anywhere. Their idea is to give people something better than the pallet and cardboard shacks they have now, but it is still affordable for them.

Recently, due to the Haiti earthquake, there have been talks about using shipping containers in order to cope in emergency situations. Clemson's School of Architecture collaborated on the project to create a method to convert the shipping containers into homes. The original idea was inspired by the housing crisis that have followed large hurricanes in the Caribbean and United States. However the lead professor believes that the shipping containers would work in earthquake prone areas. He says, "because of the unibody construction they are also very good in seismic zones and exceeds structural codes in the United States and in any country in the world."

The faculty and students' main idea was to find a way to put displaced people in emergency housing that could be both sturdy and safe on a permanent site. But, putting families back on their own land quickly is still the key objective. This shows that something that was first seen as a novelty and highly experimental, has become something so much more. The shipping containers went from being a nuisance to being used to aid those in need. The progression of this prefab housing idea in such a short time illustrates how far society can come in such a short time.


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