If shipping container architecture is really cheap and green, why aren’t more people choosing to build and live in them? Seattle-based architect Matthew Coates and British aircraft structural engineer James Green touch on why shipping container houses, while intriguing, are not yet popular:
“Container houses, where the dwelling is essentially the interior of the box, have been around for quite a while. There are two basic reasons why those types of shipping container houses haven’t seen the success some have envisioned firstly, they were designed to ship cargo not to be lived in. They are uncomfortable, even claustrophobic spaces. Secondly, they are costly to modify and eventually the cost-benefit ratio falls apart. It’s just too expensive to retrofit a container to be a nice space.”
The designers collaborated on a solution to make shipping container homes more appealing, economically and aesthetically, by first returning the containers to their original function. Their Eco-Pak homes use the shipping containers to transport the structural framing pieces of their prefabricated houses. Once on site, the containers become part of the foundation, making the structures suitable for sites where concrete foundations cannot be used. The rest of the home’s frame is easily assembled around the building block of the container.
The Eco-Pak design combines the advantages of prefabrication (i.e. speed, economy, and better quality control) with those of shipping container construction. Based on Green’s original idea of building a shipping container home with a custom steel shell, the design principles behind the “Eco Modular” container house include
- an optimized structure
- use of recycled materials
- reduced packaging materials
- low cost and secure transportation
Because the Eco-Pak doesn’t require a typical foundation, can be assembled quickly, and can be shipped in large quantities, the design obviously has potential for disaster and emergency housing applications. Coates and Green are also adapting their ideas for the affordable housing market, remote or off the grid housing, and the luxury market. The designers hope to offer Eco-Pak kits as a set of structural parts or a turnkey package that provides all the exterior components.
Green was granted a patent for the Eco-Pak design this spring, and a fully functioning prototype in Seattle, Washington is scheduled for completion in early 2013.
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