Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Good Design in Shipping Container Construction

Read an article of Treehugger while drinking my morning coffee, and was piqued by this post by Lloyd Alter.  Basically it was attacking some cabins made out of used shipping containers built by the Boy Scouts of America on Catalina Island.  And while most (or all) of what he said about those cabins was true, he then went on to attack shipping container construction in general.  That is what piqued me.
"It is about time for architects to face up to the reality that shipping containers are designed for freight, not people, and by the time you adapt them to people there is barely any shipping container left."
 Well, that may be true, but do wood frame construction houses look like a pile of 2x4s when they are done?  This is just a silly argument.  Even if you remove all the siding completely, you are still reusing the structural steel without going through a very high energy recycling process.  Also, this technique utilizes a material that is currently waste.  Empty, used shipping containers are piling up at all of our major ports and big cities, because it is more expensive to ship them back to where the goods come from than to manufacture new ones.  In what way is using them to build houses not better than using new steel?  Or conventional wood framing?  I am willing to stand corrected if someone can give me a good answer.

I know as well as anyone that most shipping container design looks pretty ugly, but just because many examples look like a bunch of shipping containers stacked into a big ugly box doesn't mean that it has to.  And really, is this any more ugly than the big steel and glass corporate power towers that have been popular in this country for so many decades?  No, it is just as ugly.  To say it was more ugly would be to diminish the legacy of Corbu.

Poorly designed shipping container construction is not the fault of the shipping container, it is the fault of the person designing it.  To prove my point, I will add a slide show of beautiful homes and buildings that use shipping containers as structural elements, right below my "about me" on my blog.  It should be up later today.
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