Friday, January 14, 2011

Shipping Containers as Homes?

Container City, a shipping-container apartment building on the docks of London, England. Photo courtesy:

Alternate housing has long been the holy grail sought to abolish homelessness. If only sufficent materials for cheap, green housing could be found, then everyone could have their own home. Pie in the sky? Maybe not.

Vancouver, BC., Canada is conducting a social experiment in alternate housing. Although this is not the first such endeavour in the world, it is the first in Canada. Vancouver will soon see a new type of social housing for disadvantaged women — an apartment complex made out of shipping containers.

Cheaply produced shipping containers, designed to transport cargo in 12-metre bites, are increasingly being used to house people in need of temporary accommodation. There has been some resistance to the use of "containers" as housing; but, personally, I see very little difference between a shipping container and a mobile home (trailer).

One such refitted eight-room shipping container has sheltered homeless people in Chilliwack, BC (not far from Vancouver) while women’s advocates say they are close to winning approval from Vancouver to erect a cluster of 12 apartments at a vacant Downtown Eastside lot.

“We will be able to provide 12 units of housing for young women on otherwise vacant land. It will be full,” says Janice Abbott, executive director of the non-profit Atira Women’s Resource Society which provides housing for disadvantaged women.

Example of how delightful the inside of a shipping container can become with some ingenuity and creative thinking. Photo courtesy:

The structure — the first of its kind in Canada — will occupy a currently empty lot at Jackson Avenue and Alexander Street in the Downtown Eastside.

Suites made from the containers will cost about $85,000 per unit, a fraction of the cost of constructing a new apartment unit in a standard building.

The container development will consist of six self-contained suites, each with a kitchen and full bathroom. The units will be fully insulated and will each have a floor-to-ceiling window.

"They'll be stylized and they'll definitely be funky but we didn't want to disguise them," said Janice Abbott, of the Atira Women's Resources Society, which is managing the project.

There will be two units per floor, and each unit will be about 320 square feet in size.

Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, a proponent of modular housing, said he supports the project, as long as the units are liveable.

"This is an issue I've been very concerned about [is] liveability," said Jang. "I mean, as soon as you say the word 'container,' people think you're just warehousing people."

Despite the concept, residents won't feel boxed in, said project supervisor James Weldon.

"We're putting two containers next to each other and then splitting them down the middle to create a more traditional layout for a small bachelor suite," Weldon said. "So once you're inside the unit, you won't know its a container."

The housing units are expected to be ready for occupancy by Sept. 1, 2011.

In my opinion, renovated shipping containers are an extremely viable alternative to conventional housing.

Check out this video to see these containers change from a discarded container to someone's home. Fascinating to watch, the green features of a container home are discussed.

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