shipping containers as housing

This story

from The Observer today delivers what might be the death blow to the shipping-containers-as-housing movement. Quote:

"Specially converted sea containers imported from China are to be turned into temporary jails to ease the British prisons overcrowding crisis, The Observer has learned.

The plan is to have the modules installed in five prisons by June at a cost of £3.5m each. Prisons earmarked for the new units include Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution in Shropshire and Wayland Prison in Norfolk.

The government has also placed an order for two large-scale units comprising five containers bolted together and capable of holding 300 prisoners apiece. These larger modules will require planning permission, which means they are unlikely to be introduced until the end of the year. It is understood Rochester Prison in Kent has been identified as one possible site for the new units."

Gotta love that last bit - even the UK police state has trouble getting a shipping container building past review boards! 'Well I don't know, it just doesn't fit in with the rest of the prison.'

Related: this discussion from a few weeks ago regarding Andrew Maynard and lo/tek.

Mar 19, 07 10:21 am

not sure why this means anything relative to the use of shipping containers for non-prison functions.

shipping containers are a means to an end, just like concrete block or framing.

Mar 19, 07 10:25 am  · 

The students at Delft hated their housing options. I thought this was one of the more successful forms of shipping container housing, but the students complained of a lack of natural light and low-ceilings.

Still bigger than my old dorm room.

Ultimately, the containers themselves lead to negative connotations.

Mar 19, 07 10:32 am  · 

It is a pretty illustrative example of using the container - after all, the "ready-made", industrial and economic aspects are the reasons behind the fascination of the container. The way it is being used as "cattle sheds" is the logical outcome of the container's qualities.

Louis Kahn would ask: what does the container want to be? now the answer seems clear: a prison. and a pretty crappy one at that.

good riddance.

Mar 19, 07 10:37 am  · 

I think it's the semiotics.

People already tend to read these things in negative terms, they're reminders, at best, of an industrial infrastructure that most would prefer remain invisible. At worst, I think the use of containers for housing sets up an implied equivalence between the human resident and a global commodity. Shigeru Ban said somewhere that: '... containers are for things, not for people'.

I'm thinking specifically about proposals to use containers as refugee or disaster relief housing. Sure there will always the hip and knowledgeable among us who dig that semi ironic look of utilitarian industrial decay. Container housing will keep its high-end market, but it's exactly that means-to-an-end logic that turns most people off when it's applied to the global poor, and with good reason.

Think of that other ubiquitous piece of logistics detritus, the shipping pallet, and its use in self-made homeless shelters and shantytowns. Add in the 'poor person = commodity' equation. And then remember the average civilian's critique of classically utilitarian high modernism: 'I think it looks like a prison'. Mix it all up and you've got a perfect storm of bad signifiers.

Mar 19, 07 10:42 am  · 

i saw those a couple years ago too, Prolly...i rather liked the solution. there was only one "bldg" when i visited...looks like they've propogated...

the other night i was unable to sleep...Bob Vila was on TV at 5am, talking to a contractor in Miami that was building a typical suburban stucoo home, but using "ISBU's" as the primary structure. can't recall from my insomniatic state what the acronym stands for, but they were essentially shipping containers modified with openings, electric etc. for insulation they used a 20mm spray on ceramic product deveoped by NASA. i fell asleep as they installed typical wood trusses for the roof.

...nothing to do with the original post. sorry.


Mar 19, 07 10:43 am  · 
vado retro

i see lo/tek a comin
comin round the bend
and i aint seen the sunshine
since i dont know when

im stuck in my shippin container
and time keeps draggin on
when i see lo/tek comin
i hang my head and cry

when i was just a baby
my momma said to me
dont bother with architecture
get yerself a law degree

but i got an march from harvard
and the debt makes me wanna die
when i see those monthly statements
i hang my head and cry

actually the lo/tek folks are very nice...

Mar 19, 07 10:52 am  · 


you missed your true calling, my friend. You and LB should start a band

Mar 19, 07 12:14 pm  · 

yeah, really, that was inspired, vado. maybe you should take out some more loans and attend a music school. :D

Mar 19, 07 12:19 pm  · 

shipping container roof too low - cut it off raise it higher

need more light cut the larger side out as a big ass window

the advantage of shipping containers is that there are so many of them abound in every country, and they are quickly becoming waste material. its about finding a secondary use for it other than landfil land art

Mar 19, 07 1:21 pm  · 

Britain is behind the times. the good ol U S of A has been using shipping containers at gitmo for all those habeus corpus cases for the past 4 years.

Vado, you need to compile your lyrics into a book to sell on amazon!

Mar 19, 07 1:33 pm  · 

one of the points made by the ISBU sub-contractor on the previously mentioned Bob Vila show was that in the US we import a great deal more than we export, hence an abundance of shipping containers without a purpose.

Mar 19, 07 1:38 pm  · 

this is my school's (NYIT) entry to the 2005 solar decathlon, we used a beautiful scrapped shipping container from a yard in brooklyn(i believe):

Mar 19, 07 2:14 pm  · 

sorry they got cut off, the rest of the house is great too!

Mar 19, 07 2:17 pm  · 
vado retro

yes per the lo/tek lecture i attended recently. it costs more to ship the container back than its worth.

Mar 19, 07 2:22 pm  · 
Ms Beary

ISBU = Intermodal Steel Building Unit

Mar 19, 07 2:55 pm  · 

What happened to the pics? Those were really cool.

cmu268 - to resize an image just type width=400 after the image url:

[ img ] width=400[ /img ]

Mar 19, 07 3:17 pm  · 

btw Guantanamo Bay has container prisons too (never shown on tv for obvious reasons) built by Brown & Roote...

Mar 19, 07 3:20 pm  · 

this is a little better:

Mar 19, 07 3:53 pm  · 

Yeah, cool project, cmu268.

architechnophilia - I think treekiller pointed that out above, I hadn't heard that so I googled 'guantanamo shipping container' try it if you want some real horror stories: suffocation, overheating, crowding ... they don't just keep those guys in containers at gitmo, some of the detainees were actually transported via container as well.

I am continuously amazed at the atrocities committed by the United States.

Mar 19, 07 5:54 pm  · 

765 they used a similar product to temporary house evacuees when the volcano erupted in Montserrat. But they had them in there for over 3 years...some of the units were found to have fiberglass and/or asbestos insulation - yummy.

Mar 19, 07 10:26 pm  · 


Mar 19, 07 10:54 pm  · 

funny, i saw gitmo on a frontline special or something one night and it actually looked better than a typical U.S. prison, i didn't see any shipping containers but i wouldn't put it past the U.S. government.

On a side note a company i used to work for used containers for document storage, documents i had to organize and track in 90 degree GA heat (bout 30 C). It has to be the most inhospitiable environment on earth. Honestly i'd rather sleep under a tree.

Mar 19, 07 11:02 pm  · 

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