Nick Rosen | |
container home
Cheap is beautiful

The architecture world has long been in love with shipping containers as homes, but Australian politicians seem unaware of this trend.
Container Homes, known in Australia as Dongers (careful, Mum, don’t do an internet search for this word) have got Ozzie MPs hot under the collar. Laborite Shane Hill says it is not Australian to put people into the disused sea containers converted to accommodation for as little as 20,000 Ozzie dollars (about $15,000 US).

He says he has been discussing his concerns with the Minister for Housing and Works, Michelle Roberts.

Because some containers are shipped so far that the cost of returning them exceeds the cost of replacement, several companies have started recycling them to produce homes. Dongers are extremely strong and their standard shape means that houses can be created quickly in a number of configurations and sizes.

The container in our picture is being prepared for habitation in the Amazon rainforest by a team of scientists. They outline exactly how they did it on the web site The site has received 3 million visits so far.

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Architect Adam Kalkin’s Quik House, employs five containers, while Lot-EK’s CHK (Container Home Kit) uses varying numbers of units and can even include a swimming pool. Australian architect Sean Godsell has also produced Future Shack, a self-contained refuge in a single container for use during disasters.

In the past few months Japanese casual clothing retailer Uniqlo has used the modular transportation units to house a series of temporary stores in New York that have helped to herald the opening of a showcase store in the city. And last December Miami was the venue for “Art Positions”, an exhibition of artworks housed in 20 of the steel boxes.

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Royal Wolf, a West Australian company selling the converted containers has reported a sharp sales increase on the back of the state’s housing shortage.

“We’d be approaching 100 units in 12 months that have been supplied to either mining industry, construction industry, some residential. If you go and look at the inside you’ll be surprised at how pleasant and comfortable they can be.”

In Victoria Canada, residential designer Keith Dewey is in the process of transforming eight of the discarded corrugated metal boxes into a 2,000-square-foot luxury home in funky Fernwood, one of Victoria’s oldest areas.

While some neighbours might consider the container house “weird” or “ugly,” for Dewey, who will live there with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, the house is the ultimate example of reduce-reuse-recycle — his main motivation for the creation.

“My concept here is to make use of something that’s destined for the scrap yard,” says the 37-year-old who studied architecture and environmental design at Ryerson University and the Ontario College of Art. “And it’s reducing the amount of other building materials that would have been used.”

Not only are shipping containers environmentally friendly building blocks, they are also sturdy and inexpensive — Dewey paid about $3,000 each for his. And they make for a quick and simple construction process — it took less than a month from pouring the foundation to finishing the framing of Dewey’s house, using the Lego-like modules.

Dewey says, “I think this will be the go-to house when the Big One (earthquake) hits.”

When it’s completed in late summer, the house will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan main floor (with kitchen, dining room and living room), five balconies, a full basement, laundry room and storage area. Added luxuries, such as in-floor heating, a 91/2-foot ceiling in the master bedroom (thanks to a curved steel roof) and high-end appliances are also in the plans.

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The inside walls will be insulated with about two inches of spray foam between the corrugated metal and drywall. “From the inside, it will look like a normal house,” says Dewey. “Outside, we’re going to keep it steel but we’re going to sand it and paint it.”

Interior designer Julia Roemer says the home’s interior will have a “contemporary industrial” look, featuring metal and concrete elements in keeping with the exterior. “But the finished product won’t feel like you’re living in a tin can,” she says. “It’s not really that different from a regular house.”

Roemer acknowledges that living in a metal shipping container house isn’t for everyone. “It’s definitely a home for a modern family. It’s a very European style of living. Everyone has a bedroom, but the common areas are quite small. There’s no great room, no rumpus room, no media room. The living area is humble but completely adequate.”

She sees this type of “innovative” housing as something the entire building community should pay attention to. “With all this crazy building going on, this is just keeping it simple.”

In recent years, shipping containers have been used to create temporary, emergency and disaster housing; in Africa and Jamaica, containers have become schools; in Scotland and California, the steel structures are used as artists’ studios; in South Africa a hostel was built from the charmless metal boxes; and a travelling exhibition in the U.S. is housed in a travelling container-built museum.

The largest example of container architecture is a five-storey, 34-unit project in London, England, called Container City. This colourful live-work space for artists, built from 45 of the 40-foot containers, was completed in 2002.

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