The best, worst and shark-jumpingest shipping container architecture of 2017

shipping container collage
via Various

There is a shipping container building revolution coming, but it won't look like a bunch of silly boxes.

Shipping containers are wonderful things that have changed the world – of shipping. In architecture, not so much, but architects and designers keep trying. Now, I literally grew up around shipping containers, back when they were expensive and not left sitting around in ports, and have always wondered why designers keep trying to squish people into boxes that were designed for freight, which is hard to do. It takes a great deal of talent and imagination to a) make it work and b) justify it as a reasonable and sensible thing to do in the first place. Here are the best and worst of the year in TreeHugger:

Shipping container house takes jumping the shark to new heights

WHitaker exterior© Whitaker Studios via ArchDaily
First, the worst.
Yup, when it’s a hundred and ten degrees in the California desert, there is no better place to be than inside a shipping container. What could be more comfortable than a steel box? It is indeed a wonderful exercise in maximizing surface area, making impossible connections, creating unusable spaces.
Critically acclaimed on just about every design website, the project is evidently starting construction in 2018. More: Shipping container house takes jumping the shark to new heights

Ten Fold Engineering thinks outside the box

Did I use that horrible tired cliché in my title? I did, but I meant it. Back in the day when I played with shipping containers, you wouldn't think of using empty boxes but would fill them up with stuff that folded out. That way you could get reasonable dimensions inside and you could move it easily because, by design, shipping containers want to move.
It will be interesting to see how the designers cope with waterproofing and all the other issues of moving parts; there are a lot of complicated connections here. But they have done it. They have built the box that unfolds to five times its size in a matter of minutes. It is a dream I have personally had for decades, finally come to fruition. I am very impressed.
More: Ten Fold Engineering thinks outside the box

Can a border wall with Mexico made from shipping containers be "eco-friendly and sustainable"?

shipping container wall© Domo Architecture + Design
No. And I want our words back. More.

Monster house is topped with a pair of tilted shipping containers

We have often wondered on TreeHugger whether shipping container architecture makes sense. Now Indonesian architect shows us what is perhaps the most nonsensical and silly use of shipping containers yet, where they are a nothing more than a tilted hat on top of a monster house on the island of Lombok, an Indonesian island east of Bali.
So why are they there? Drama. Excitement. In your face.
In the presence of this location on the hill, of course we have to be careful because this building will automatically become an icon of the surrounding environment.
More: Monster house is topped with a pair of tilted shipping containers

This shipping container house makes sense

So a boilermaker buys a property with an old shipping container sitting on it, and turns it into the solid anchor for an entire house built out of recycled materials. This makes sense and sounds like fun. More: This shipping container house makes sense

You can now order a shipping container tiny house on Amazon

MODS pre-fab shipping container homeAmazon/via
When my dad was in the container biz in the '70s, he would occasionally get a photo from somewhere where a container had been stolen and little windows were chopped into the side of it and families lived in it. They looked much like this. So why is it on TreeHugger and for that matter every other website? Because you can buy it on Amazon. Although you are not really buying FROM Amazon, it is just a company using it as ordering platform. An Amazon drone is not going to drop it in your backyard. Derek acknowledges that, "at the end of the day, it's still just a long narrow box with windows added to it and not much character." No argument from me there. More: You can now order a shipping container tiny house on Amazon

Shipping container house in Brooklyn doesn't make sense, and I don't care

Caroll house corner© Melissa Breyer
If I complained that the last shipping container house had too little design, this one is a whole different story, designed LOT-EK, true pioneers in the shipping container biz. It is completely over the top and I love it.
All the usual points about the silliness of shipping container housing apply here. There is no structural efficiency, there is no economy, it is impossible to insulate, it is one giant thermal bridge, it proves how shipping containers are not the right size for habitation (since they are cut to pieces) and everything about it is just about "look at me, look what I can do." As a building, it is totally nuts.
Editor Melissa, who lives around the corner, described the owners' restaurants as "almost too rustic-hipster-cool, but the quality is undeniable." Same is true for the house. More: Shipping container house in Brooklyn doesn't make sense, and I don't care

Rock in a box with Arkitema Architects' shipping container housing project

Beat box facade detail© Arkitema Architects/ facade closeup
Here is the first of two hotel projects that should be looked at together. This one is in Denmark, and has the shipping containers stuck into a frame. Structurally this makes no sense because containers are designed to stack 16 high on their corner posts, but that looks boring. They don't want boring. "Beat Box is a fun and challenging project. We are working within the very specific and set shapes of the container but are still able to transform them into something different and new." More: Rock in a box with Arkitema Architects' shipping container housing project

Does shipping container architecture make sense? This hotel in London might.

This hotel in London doesn't use shipping containers because they are sexy; it uses them because the owners of the hotel do not own the land, which is a right-of-way that might be needed to service the railway line behind it. So they have a lease which says they have to clear out on 28 days notice. That's hard to do with a regular building but not with a shipping container; it is not done for looks or fun but again, because containers are designed to move. More: Does shipping container architecture make sense? This hotel in London might

Hotel in Manchester, UK is built out of some very strange shipping containers

rendering of concept© Chapman Taylor
This project doesn't look like much; it is a boring Holiday Inn in Manchester. But it is probably the most important shipping container building of the year, because the manufacturers, CIMC Modular in China, have figured out how to build a decent sized hotel room that gets transported like a shipping container. This changes the business.

Why we should be afraid, very afraid

Across the US and the UK and, in fact, everywhere, millions of jobs have been lost to offshoring and to automation. Construction is one of the last industries that has been barely affected by these changes, and that still provides lots of “blue collar” jobs to people all over the country. If this takes off, we might well see the kind of disruption in the construction industry that we have seen in everything else, where our buildings become like our iPhones: designed in America but built in China. We might get our housing faster and cheaper, but we might also lose thousands of jobs as the industry is offshored.

More: Hotel in Manchester, UK is built out of some very strange shipping containers

Shipping containers have changed the world, and they have changed architecture and design by globalizing components and materials. (Read what happened to granite counters here). But they have not changed the building industry -- yet. But watch what happens in the UK and the USA over the next few years as the labor market tightens.

Forget the silly houses with shipping containers sticking out everywhere; there is a real revolution coming and it won't look like a bunch of boxes.

The best, worst and shark-jumpingest shipping container architecture of 2017
There is a shipping container building revolution coming, but it won't look like a bunch of silly boxes.

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