Shipping container pavilion lets it all hang out

Container pavilion
© People's Architecture Office

Shipping containers have a fundamental flaw when turned into buildings: they are narrow inside. So designers often cut out the sides. Or they cut out the ends to get big windows. Or they cut out the floor to get double height spaces. Soon they are like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, which gradually disappears until there is nothing left but a smile. Alice notes that "she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat"

Now designboom shows this design for a pavilion in Dongshan, Shanxi Province, China by People's Architecture Office. There is little left of the shipping containers but a smile, a visual form outside that looks very much like a bunch of shipping containers just hanging out. Hanging way out on some wild cantilevers, often with no visible means of support.

There is weirdness in the double layers, the two corner castings on top of each other, as if they have cut the floor off one shipping container and stuck it on top of the other. This may be a clever way of hiding insulation between, although it is one giant thermal bridge. Winters in Shanxi are described as "long, hard and cold" so let's hope there is insulation and heating.

The great virtue of shipping containers is that they are easy to move, and this building is "conceived as a temporary structure that can be readily disassembled", and relocated to other destinations. We can only take them at their word, but these do not look like your usual stacked shipping container connections.

The most remarkable thing about this project is the incredible cantilevering of boxes; shipping containers are really strong at the corners, not so strong anywhere else. That's why containers with fork lift pockets have big signs saying "DO NOT LIFT WHEN FULL" because they would just bend- they are designed be picked up and stacked from the corner castings and corner posts. There is some serious steel hidden in these boxes to let them do this- the kind of steel that again makes me dubious that this could be taken apart without some serious torching and cutting.

The last time I wrote about a project like this, readers complained that I do not know what I am talking about, and that there is too much opinion to little fact. So I will state my opinion and conviction as an architect who has been around shipping containers since I was fifteen years old: They are wonderful things that have changed the world, and there is a real place for shipping container architecture when it is designed to move, where they are used as building blocks and kept relatively intact, like, for example, Boxpark in London.

BoxparkLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But when you start cutting them to pieces and try to make them do things that they were not designed to do, like giant cantilevers with huge open interior spaces, then there really is no point, there are no cost savings, there is no energy or resource efficiency, and it is nothing more than a smile.

Lots more images on Designboom.

Shipping container pavilion lets it all hang out
Such cantilevers! Who knew that shipping containers could do that.

Related Content on