A couple items about shipping containers have showed up recently.

There’s a gallery of shipping container construction from The Daily Green. It doesn’t have a lot that’s terribly new, but it’s a larger gallery (40-some images, I think) so it’s nice to have for reference, although most of them are not what I think are the best examples of the type (the Ross Stevens house (pictured) being a notable exception to that characterization).

There’s also an article that takes some critical jabs at shipping container construction. Although I am a fan of shipping container construction, it’s not such a sacred cow that I think it’s out of line to ask questions like this.

“Why are people recycling perfectly good shipping containers into narrow houses with low ceilings? If new shipping containers are still being produced and steel has a higher embodied energy than traditional home construction methods, then wouldn’t it make more sense to just keep using them as shipping containers? When used as a house, some of the metal will need to be cut out for windows and doors. When used as non-moving parts in low-rise construction, they offer way more structural strength than is needed, making them an inefficient use of steel. They need to be painted often or the metal will corrode, problematic if you were counting on it as the structure. If you add even a modest amount of insulation, then the tight spaces become even tighter. “

To rebut some of these criticisms, although they continue to be produced, there is an abundance of shipping containers, and reusing them is a productive thing to do. Much overseas shipping is one-way, so there is an overstock of them that is available for alternative uses.

Yes, you could use less steel for a low rise construction, but you would have some other material (or more likely materials, plural) in addition to the steel to serve as the cladding. The trade-off is that the shipping container is extremely cheap to produce. Good luck finding another 300+ square foot space with structure and cladding for such a low price. As far the criticism about painting goes, any building material requires some maintenance. Shipping containers are made for transport on container ships, so they start out being painted to withstand a marine environment. I don’t think they need to be painted more often than a wood house needs to be painted.

Shipping containers aren’t a panacea, they’re a design challenge. That’s why I find them intriguing. There is something appealing about taking a fairly unitary material and stretching the possibilities in order to develop something wonderful.