I know that not everyone is going to agree with me, but I’ve been thinking about this ever since PV14 was built: Shipping containers as housing is over.
When Michael Gooden was hoisting the long metal boxes in the air that would make up his shipping container project in Old Lake Highlands that overlooks White Rock Lake, I had to wonder: Why are we using metal boxes to build things in Texas? Have you ever been inside a storage unit without climate control in summer here? It’s the equivalent of being baked alive. Heck, if you want to sweat it out, go to King Spa. But a corrugated metal home in an area where you’re roasting on 100-degree days throughout the summer? No thanks. And consider that, if you’re just building a room without modifying the container size, it’s only 7 feet wide, which is hardly a good size for a human-scaled space.
And yet, Zad Roumaya wants to build an apartment development in the Cedars that will be made of shipping containers. He says he’ll call the concept, should it get off the ground, ModPod. But how much sense does it make to assemble all these boxes to build a structure that costs hundreds of dollars to retrofit for our climate?
I was glad to see that my misgivings were validated by someone far more qualified: San Francisco-based OpenScope principle Mark Hogan. Hogan, an architect who has even done a shipping container project has much more to say on the matter.
Here’s what Hogan touched on that really made sense to me:
In a large building, you’ll still need a lot of space to run utilities. Because of the problems with insulation mentioned above, you will need to install a very robust HVAC system to heat and cool the building (that Mumbai tower shown above would literally be a deathtrap without cooling). You will have a hard time taking advantage of passive strategies like thermal mass if you maintain the container aesthetic. You’ll also end up with low ceilings, as even high cube containers are only 9 feet 6 inches (2.9 meters) in overall exterior height, so any ductwork or utilities start cutting into headroom.
And what about modifying shipping containers, like Gooden did in PV14? Is it always cost-effective? And what about reinforcing the structure as you cut away walls? Additionally, if you don’t stack containers one on top of the other, are the structures still as strong?
You’ve seen the proposals with cantilevers everywhere. Containers stacked like Lego building blocks, or with one layer perpendicular to the next. Architects love stuff like this, just like they throw around usually misleading/meaningless phrases like “kit of parts.” Guess what – the second you don’t stack the containers on their corners, the structure that is built into the containers needs to be duplicated with heavy steel reinforcing. The rails at the top and the roof of the container are not structural at all (the roof of a container is light gauge steel, and will dent easily if you step on it). If you cut openings in the container walls, the entire structure starts to deflect and needs to be reinforced because the corrugated sides act like the flange of beam and once big pieces are removed, the beam stops working. All of this steel reinforcing is very expensive, and it’s the only way you can build a “double-wide.”
What are your thoughts on shipping container construction?