Build things cheap, fast, hassle-free, and preferably also green. It’s the dream of every investor, be it an individual or a property developer. And, although it might seem otherwise, it doesn’t have to be synonymous with fragile! After all, containers are rigid spaces for transporting goods.
Disused containers meet many of the needs of modern architecture. Quick setup, good availability, and easily designable surface have made of containers a viable architectural alternative on a global scale. And no wonder, given that it also checks all the boxes of the zero-waste concept! Of course, the most common examples of this trend are still residential premises. The cozy blue guesthouse designed by Poteet Architects, the chic Incubo House in Escazu, Costa Rica, and the shelter for the homeless in Los Angeles may be vastly different for so many reasons, but they have one important thing in common – they’re all made of containers. An interesting example is also the extension of the student dormitory in Johannesburg, in which the new rooms were located in colorful containers attached to the existing concrete block.
Ready-made modules are eagerly used in socially engaged architecture, as they seem to provide an easy way out of the pressing problems of homelessness or living in the so-called unworthy conditions. However, the job of an architect comes with responsibility. A building can be built fast, cheaply and may even look nice, but it doesn’t mean much unless it’s practical. On hot days, metal walls heat up very quickly, while on cold days they feel like a cold room. Therefore, the main adaptation consists in the right insulation in order to ensure optimal living conditions for the tenants. Architecture For A Change is a firm based in South Africa whose portfolio includes projects such as the super organic school in Malawi. The building was made of recycled materials, and was equipped with solar panels and rainwater tanks.
There’s probably few of us who didn’t like to play with Lego bricks when we were children. Hotels, restaurants, office buildings and schools made of (often colorful) containers look very much like supersized child designs. Elements that are easy and quick to piece together make it significantly easier to not only build a solid structure but also move it if need be. We all know how big of a headache overcrowded schools can be. Isn’t it in a way futureproof to seek solutions in designs that can be built in the blink of an eye and that can be reduced, expanded, dismantled or moved to another district in no time? Three days. That’s all it took to address the lack of sports facilities at Dunraven School in London. The colorful hall is now not only a fun space for the pupils to spend time but also adds a distinctive touch to the district where it is located.
While it is true that container architecture is gaining traction worldwide, it is still perceived as somewhat extravagant in Poland. The question is, what is it exactly that stands in the way. More than anything, it’s probably false appearances and stereotypes. For many, living, working or learning “inside a container” brings to mind associations with the third world, homelessness and poverty. However, examples from all over the world prove just the opposite. It is perhaps time to rethink and take advantage of the potential of recycled architecture. Because, nowadays more than ever, less really is more!
transl. Jakub Majchrzak