Shipping container skyscrapers proposed for Mumbai

GA container closeup
© Ganti + Associates

Here is the winner of an international ideas competition for housing in the slums of Mumbai, designed by Ganti + Asociates (GA) Design. The competition actually was for container skyscraper, which is a debatable concept from the start, and I think demonstrates many of the problems with container architecture.

night view© Ganti + Associates

The design takes advantage of the fact that one can stack containers nine high when full, 16 high when empty.

Containers can be stacked 10 storeys high without additional supports. The steel skin itself takes the load like a “Monocoque” structure thus cutting cost for additional columns or beams. The design of a 100 M tall high rise structure (approx. 32 storeys) calls for erecting portal frames connected with steel girders placed every 8 storeys. Each 8 storey self-supporting stack rests on these girders and the module repeats vertically.

The problem is that you can only stack them on their corner castings; the monocoque is not strong enough to support another container on top. So you would not be able to jog them in and out as shown.

floor plan© Ganti + Associates

Then there is the issue of the plans; beds are 75 inches long. Containers are 90 inches wide inside without insulation. In Mumbai you are definitely going to need insulation that probably takes the width down to 87 inches if it is only insulated on the outside. Which means you only have 12 inches to get around the end of the bed. Which is not very realistic.

In fact, none of the entries in this silly competition are very realistic, because shipping containers do not make very good housing. As noted in my post, Does Shipping Container Architecture Make Sense?, I have been surrounded by shipping containers since I was ten; my dad started building them in 1962. I learned early that their dimensions were based on the dimensions of flatbed trucks and rail cars, not furniture, and were designed to be filled with freight, not people. Perhaps it was a bad career move, not building on this experience, but there you go. And hey, ideas competitions are fun.

In almost every architectural competition I look at, it seems I prefer the honorable mentions better than the winners. That certainly happened here, where I find that the most interesting entry is from Stephanie Hughes of AKKA Architects in Amsterdam. She has designed a simple framework that acts as a platform that you insert the container houses in.

This allows the occupants a lot more flexibility in how they use the space around their units; in fact, it is a city in the sky with all kinds of things going on. The architect notes:

section© AKKA

The housing flats in this complex have private but also semi-public and public sections allowing small home-based businesses and production units to be run from the ‘residential’ units. In addition, Living frame|work contains open plazas, public spaces, ramps, stairs, water collection systems, solar farms, recycling facilities, leather tanneries, metal and wood workshops, pottery studios, garments, luggage and jewellery workshops…etc. In its different towers and different areas (ground floors and roofs), this project houses different neighbourhoods with their different activities and industries.

The plan of the units more accurately represent the real width inside the boxes, and is probably luxury accommodation in the slums of Mumbai.

As with the Evolo competitions, I am always amazed by the energy and skill that goes into these entries that almost nobody ever sees and that have no possibility of being built. Unlike most of the Evolo entries, both of these schemes have been proposed by established architectural firms that have built real buildings. A lot of architects avoid competitions for real buildings because so much energy goes into them for so little possibility of gain; It surprises me still that they go into ideas competitions like this.

It also still surprises me that shipping containers are still treated as magic boxes that can do anything while costing nothing. So much work going on here, so much time, such substandard results. Why bother?

See more of the entries here.

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