I use the term “shipping-container-inspired” because, though the idea of modular, packable, and movable housing is great… shipping containers are an odd fit at best. The craze for using shipping containers as houses has been around for over a decade now. There are a number of reasons for why it’s an appealing idea. First, shipping containers are popular for housing because the containers are being “up-cycled” from their original use and there are thousands of them sitting on empty lots.
Second, though the traditional mobile and modular home have really never been well-received, still the idea of modularity in housing continues to rise in popularity. They can be stacked, configured, and added to like LEGO bricks. Third, because the container was designed for the shipping industry, it conforms to every shipping method imaginable (with the entire house packed inside – like this example from G-pod – www.g-pod.com/home)
But there are some unfortunate down sides to shipping containers. The dimensions of the shipping container were designed for the shipping industry and not for people. Not only do they make for cramped space but they’re dark as well. Humans need light. But in order to open the container to light, holes have to be created or sometimes the top and sides must be removed which compromises the structural integrity of the container. Not only are containers cramped and dark, and structural only if left intact, but they are also not insulated well (if at all). So you can see that lots of extra measures have to be considered and taken in order to make the containers comfortable for human housing. Without major modifications, they just aren’t a natural fit for us.
Which begs the question, if you have to go cutting on them, and joining them to other spaces in order to create the openness needed for real life, and then add insulation to them (for extreme climates especially), then why start with a shipping container at all? Why not just build something new from scratch that truly fits? It’s a great question that calls for more than just a superficial response.
As for the G-pod mentioned earlier, it’s a great idea. I support the general concept. However, there are practical issues that the G-pod does not address sufficiently.
1. How does the G-pod, or any mobile container housing, work for any kind of family unit?
How does a couple with three kids fit into a housing arrangement like that? The obvious answer would be: well, add other units and join them together in a cluster arrangement. That may be the appropriate solution.
2. How does the G-pod work in a region where bugs are a real problem during the warmer months of the year?
In typical modernist fashion, a wall of glass folds away opening up the dwelling to the outside. But that’s not realistic. It won’t work in every region. Screened partitions must be considered and incorporated into the design.
3. Why can’t the G-pod incorporate natural or other recycled materials?
Creators of the G-pod praise it’s “green” design aspects: raised beds on the roof, rainwater harvesting, solar panels for generating power, etc. But why isn’t it designed in a way that the frame or structure can accommodate natural materials like bamboo, adobe or clay slip/straw? Or so it could be partially sheltered in the ground? I believe that another item from the shipping industry might play well with shipping containers – the humble wooden shipping pallet. Here’s an example of an experimental dwelling made from discarded shipping pallets.
Believe me, I understand the disdain for the excessive size of most suburban houses and the almost irresistible appeal of a lifestyle of minimalist simplicity. But I also sympathize with those who change slowly and need some compromise along the way. So, I say let’s continue to explore the use of shipping containers for housing as we can without forcing them into an application it was never meant for. I’ll close with one last photo of a container house that was designed and built in Colorado. I think it’s a great example of the kind of compromise I’m talking about. Now the question is, can it still be designed to collapse and ship somewhere else?