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3 Reasons Why Container Architecture is Suddenly Cool

Several months ago a graduate student in Architecture asked for some help in creating an exhibit showing her alternative housing concept designs.  After 3 visits, countless photographs, and a half hour digging through my scrap metal pile she completed her project. Later she sent me a photo of the exhibit and it turned out there was a 2ft square section of corrugated steel container wall with a bunch of renderings around it. She said everybody loved it!

Then, as I sat down to dinner at a restaurant recently, I realized the wall between the kitchen and dining area was an older red K-Line shipping container. Just last week, I drove past a stack of containers that was set up for a zip line.  When a building burned down in nearby Berkeley, CA and while the owner works with the city to rebuild, a restaurant constructed from storage containers and tents has been set up.

In the last 10 years, we have witnessed the elevation of our humble utilitarian shipping containers to a nouveau chic status. Shipping Containers are cool.

So what has driven the surprise acceptance of this lowly assemblage of steel? Three reasons:

Shipping Container Building

Bigger is Not Better

After years of bigger is better; houses, cars, stores and public buildings we have reached our peak. Needing volumes of private space has become more of an excess than a personal goal.  Value is not just about size, it includes other qualities. It is pleasing to step into a well thought out space, with originality and warmth. It is fun to feel that you are in a space that is unique. Remembering that first year of college sharing a dorm room that was half the size of your bedroom at home may have helped in challenging this notion of how much space do I really need!

Changes in Building Codes

Concord Pavilion 1
We have observed a shift in local building departments over the last 6 years.  For years, municipal planners had an automatic response to the word container, “No!”  This was not a let’s talk through this kind of no, it was a simple end of discussion no.  Thanks to hard working architects and structural engineers; building officials and their staffs have begun to see the benefits of using shipping containers as design elements and as viable forms of temporary structures.  Additionally, storage containers have gained acceptance as temporary structures. Given that the shipping container is the ideal combination of durability, strength, and portability; the storage container is an easy choice for a temporary structure.

The Industrial Look

Shipping Container Restaurant
The industrial design of the shipping container is a large part of why container architecture has become cool. With the exception of the color they are painted, shipping containers are all the same. All of the millions of shipping containers that are built each year are built to ISO standard dimensions. That’s part of the fun, taking a uniform industrial product and making it unique. Retaining the industrial feel of a shipping container also helps architects and designers to bring awareness to the sustainability of re-purposing a shipping container. Although it is not totally accurate, there is a belief that the world has too many shipping containers and utilizing them for building purposes is a healthy thing to do for the environment.

The real question is whether shipping container architecture is a fad or here to stay.  I would guess it will stick, as concepts like reuse and living in smaller spaces seem to be long-term strategies, not design nuances that will fall to a newer better concept. I’ll have to come back in 5 or 10 years to see if I was right!

Since 1999, Container Solutions has been helping the Bay Area with all of their storage needs. We offer shipping containers for rent or purchase and offer a variety of container modifications. Container Solutions is focused on meeting customer needs and providing the best service in the container industry. Contact us at (800) 506-7368  or fill out an online quote.

Author: Phil Hernden

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