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Could this help reduce the housing shortage?

I was reading various articles recently on the housing shortage and found an article on using shipping containers as accommodation. Some of you will recall “A New House for London” that was erected outside the Building Centre in London that consisted of two shipping containers that offered an interpreted solution to one of our generation’s most important design and social challenges – affordable housing.

The 30m2 house was based on two recycled shipping containers and building costs were estimated to be as low as £25,000. In the future, however, new high-strength steels could be used to save weight and make such houses significantly more sustainable. The saving of weight would also have additional benefits such as reducing the foundation requirements.

There are currently more than 20M general purpose intermodal shipping containers in use globally, of which more than 1M are discarded annually, thus providing an adequate supply of second hand containers. The containers come in a range of lengths and heights, but 6.1m long by 2.44m wide by 2.59m high are generally used for accommodation and can be purchased for between £1,500 and £2,500, making them a popular choice for self-builders worldwide.

The two linked containers that made up the Building Centre house demonstrated different approaches to insulation and cladding. One was insulated externally with 80mm high performance polyisocyanurate (PIR) rigid insulation boards and clad in timber. The second used similar insulation, but fixed internally, with the container shell simply painted externally. Both had underfloor insulation. The finished house complied with all current building regulations on insulation when it was built.

There is nothing new about converting shipping containers into housing, but there have been problems with earlier designs. The Building Centre house is the response in solving these problems. Each container is topped with a steel deck supported on the end structures originally designed to allow the containers to be stacked up to ten high when fully loaded.

The Building Centre house challenges our notion of the space we need to live in. The floor area is less than the standard London guidance, but it offers flexibility, adaptability and access to the city. The question is ‘could you live in this?’ Judging from the booming popularity of narrow boats being used as permanent residences in London, where the total floor area is usually well below normal recommended minimums, the answer is likely to be positive. Carl Turner Architects have been working on recycled container-based housing design for some time and sees this as one of the best options for self-builders.

However, to make any real impact, the use of shipping containers for affordable housing would need to increase significantly. There have been various projects over the last few years where shipping containers have been used for student housing and now more are being used for hotels as well.

The benefit of purpose-made shipping containers is that they can be fully fitted-out during the manufacturing phase, transported to site and erected quickly, thus reducing the build programme. It is by taking advantage of these benefits that the costs of the construction will be reduced and which will make it viable and more attractive to affordable housing. A large number of units can be erected in a relatively small space, as they can be stacked up to 15 storeys, although this may require the use of higher strength alloys for the taller buildings, which could reduce the weight of the containers by as much as 20% or more. This will also have benefits in reducing the transport costs, crane requirements in site as well as the reduced foundation requirements as mentioned previously.

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