Nathaniel Hood

Nathaniel Hood is a transportation planner and blogger living in St. Paul. He writes for Strong Towns and Streets.MN.

Live in a Shipping Container?

Posted by: Nathaniel Hood under Society, Physical infrastructure, Transportation, Road and highway construction Updated: December 7, 2012 - 1:23 PM

I’ll concede that shipping container housing can be cool. I write this because I took a bit of flack on my previous piece about shipping containers. I wanted to take some time to offer some rebuttals (and a correction - that correction being that I wrongfully labeled the Detroit project as affordable housing. It isn’t. It is market rate. It was a mistake).

I used Tornado Towers as my storyline. I wish I was a better writer and maybe then I could have given a more passionate argument against shipping container housing by bringing it all together. Needless to say, I can’t fault people for commenting on that aspect of the piece.

For the record – I was not arguing against providing affordable housing, I was advocating that it should be quality housing and that we should not “experiment on the poor” like we’ve done so many times in the arena of public housing (e.g.: no more towers in the park). People in need of affordable housing aren’t looking for high-design.

For the most part, shipping container housing has been a luxury for the wealthy. There are more examples of second-homes on the beach/ in the woods than that of a primary residence. It appears to be a burgeoning architectural trend under the label of sustainability.

Before I go any further, I want to concede that there are definitely situations where shipping containers may be useful – such as temporary housing in areas affected by disasters. I have also been informed that they work well in desert climates as military housing on bases. These are fine uses for shipping containers. My main complaint is that, for affordable housing or otherwise, they will ultimately fail and become eyesores.

Here’s the brief rundown on why we should be skeptical of shipping container housing …

  • They are ugly and will ultimately not be loved. The design will not stand the test of time and we are only a decade away from these places being either abandoned or destroyed.
  • They aren’t much cheaper than typical housing. You can build a normal, standard, average, normal brick apartment building (that will last for a century) for about 5 percent more.
  • Environmentally, there isn’t much benefit. Retrofitting shipping containers to make them fit for human habitat takes a lot of energy. Containers are laced with countless hazardous chemicals and getting rid of those is a nasty process.
  • Vast majority proposals I’ve seen are nothing more than a "Tower in the Park" idea reincarnate. Only this time it might be worse – stacked shipping containers in the park.

Shipping container housing, minus the re-use element, as a means of urban development is a “same stuff, different day” scenario (e.g.: Tornado Towers). It failed in the past and will surely fail again in the future.

 

 

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