Amsterdam’s Lean, Green Shipping Container Homes

26 Jun

Living in a Box

Amsterdam  student Rose Mandungu stands in front of a colorful apartment complex  constructed of a rather unusual material—discarded shipping containers.  The crowded Dutch city has been meeting a pressing need for student and  other low-income housing by using ubiquitous steel shipping containers.  After years at sea, the containers were rusted and dented but ready for  reuse to house people instead of products.

The  interior of a shipping container is compact, but it can be  surprisingly comfortable, as this Amsterdam student dorm attests. When  their service at sea is finished, a growing number of steel containers  are cleaned and refurbished with flooring, insulation, air conditioning,  electricity, plumbing, and other modern conveniences.

The  result is creative green housing that requires only a fraction of new  construction’s energy and materials and costs less as well. In  Amsterdam, students have happily taken to dwelling in these  unconventional new digs built by Tempohousing.

An  Amsterdam woman produces clothing inside her shipping container  dwelling. The cheap, green, and durable freight containers, available  for just a few thousand dollars before refurbishing, are also being  pressed into new commercial ventures around the world.

Former  cargo carriers are in use as shops, marketplaces, office buildings,  hotels, and even a Nomadic Museum, which has circled the globe as a  traveling art exhibit.

A  giant student dorm serves as a shining example of “cargotecture,” the  growing application of discarded steel shipping containers to serve  architectural purposes around the globe. Despite their uniform size and  shape, the containers can be used in an endless number of configurations  because they fit together like real-world Legos.

The  uniform size and shape that made them easy to transport on  long-distance trucks and ships allows them to be stacked up to a dozen  high without significant external reinforcement.

According to figures from SG BLOCKS,  a New York-based shipping container builder, fitting a container for  housing use takes only one-twentieth the amount of energy of  reprocessing the same amount of steel—and results in an additional  hundred years of lifetime.

About  18 million steel shipping containers are currently moving cargo on seas  and roadways around the world. But at many ports, mountains of them may  be found stacked up due to a lack of outgoing cargo, particularly in  nations like the United States, where imports outnumber exports.

Some  2 million steel containers are sitting idle at any given time and all  the containers in use are eventually headed for retirement. In a growing  number of cases, being put out to pasture means a second life as a  functional building material.

An  Amsterdam resident enjoys the benefits of “cargotecture,” the growing  practice of reusing steel shipping containers for housing units. The  internationally standardized (ISO) containers are 40 feet long by 8 feet  wide by 8.5 feet high (12.2 by 2.4 by 2.6 meters), though there are  some 9.5-foot “high cubes” that are are especially favored for building.

They  can be stacked, mixed, and matched like so many Legos to create larger  buildings of creative configuration. The containers are super strong  because they are designed to carry 30 tons of cargo while withstanding  the rigors of sea travel.

Today  half of the people on Earth live in cities, and the figure is expected  to reach 60 percent by 2030. Most of that urban expansion, some 95  percent, will occur in the sprawling cities of the developing world that  already suffer from a lack of decent, affordable housing. And all of  Earth’s cities combined occupy only two percent of its land—so space is  increasingly scarce where most people live.

The topic of sustainable cities is high on the agenda for the United Nations Conference on  Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be held in Brazil from June 20 to  22. The kind of compact, modular, stackable housing being created from  shipping containers may be of particular use in the world’s growing  cities—and affordability is one of its great assets.

Bathroom –

More  than 800 million people live in slums and that number is growing  quickly. Slum housing often lacks basic necessities for human health,  including running water and proper sanitary facilities.

Steel  shipping container housing can be economically fitted with necessities  like modern bathrooms and other amenities common in the developed world  for a fraction of traditional construction costs.

The units are also entirely portable, making them well suited as temporary housing for disaster response.

You needn’t be a student like this Amsterdam woman to experience a shipping container stay. In 2008 the hotel chain Travelodge opened a 300-room hotel constructed of shipping containers in Uxbridge, in the United Kingdom. Verbus Systems fitted out the containers in China with plumbing and insulation, as  well as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—then assembled them  into a complete building on site in just three weeks.

The  intriguing hostelry is not just green in terms of saving energy and  materials compared to building from scratch, but it’s also green in terms of  the bottom line. Companies that build modular buildings from shipping  containers claim savings of 20 to even 50 percent of traditional  construction costs.

Pop-Up Shops

Amsterdam-based  Tempohousing, builder of student dormitories and other ISO shipping  container frame buildings, was launched in 2002 because of the obvious  need for affordable student housing in a crowded urban area of central  Amsterdam. By 2004 the company was fitting out container homes at the  rate of 40 per week in a Chinese factory.

From  these beginnings, Tempohousing has branched out to build low-cost  worker accommodations, cafes, supermarkets, hotels, an office building, a  laundry, and even the prototype of a portable miniature hospital—all on  the framework of the 40-by-80-foot steel blocks.

A  student smiles from a window of her shipping container apartment—and  looks toward a possible future of low-income urban housing where space  is scarce and expensive. Thanks to their convenience, affordability, and  friendly environmental footprint, a growing number of shipping  containers may continue to make the journey from the high seas to become  the high-rises of affordable urban housing.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Design, Travel


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