I love the shipping container building that is going on. Upcycling these containers is a new hot trend in reused and salvaged building supplies. (See articles: Thinking Out the Box- Shipping Containers and Shipping Container Homes in Costa Rica
Due to several comments about the use of shipping containers I found this excellent article from sincerelysustainable.com with a little more depth in the use of using containers as building materials.
Shipping, or cargo, containers are probably the most widely used and almost completely ignored structures in the world. The majority of the imports countries consume arrive via shipping containers. Subsequently, there are literally millions of these containers on ships and in ports around the globe. Though it’s becoming an ever increasing trend to repurpose these containers for use as modular building materials, very rarely do you see it being done in a way that is either aesthetically pleasing and/or, in simple terms, ‘makes sense’ for the project itself, i.e. using containers as building elements then applying convoluted and expensive materials and techniques to hide the fact that containers are being used as the structural elements.
A Very Cool Container Building
A newly completed 3 story exhibition and artists’ studio space in Soul, Korea not only utilizes shipping containers for 95% of its structure, but makes no attempts at hiding the fact that it does. The building in question serves as the Asian ‘headquarters’ or ‘program space’ for the subcultural arts organization PLATOON who are a global collective of underground artists of all disciplines (street art, performance, music, etc.). In conjunction with Graft Architects, PLATOON designed and built the multifunctional building (known as PLATOON KUNSTHALLE) out of 28 cargo containers that can be rebuilt anywhere in the world (their European HQ in Berlin is of similar design and constructed using containers). The space will house artists, performers, workshops, events, and a multitude of other art-related endeavors. What PLATOON says about the space and it’s purpose:
Due to trade imbalances in the United States and elsewhere, these heavy-duty steel boxes are piling up in ports around the globe and are beginning to pose an increasing storage problem. As a result of this, architects and builders are taking advantage of this surplus to recycle the containers due to their relative uniform size and cost. Environmentally speaking, using containers as building elements makes much more sense than trying to melt them down in order to make more steel.
The average sized shipping container has approximately 8,000 lbs of steel in it. While this steel can be melted down and reused to make steel beams or more containers, the energy required to do so is enormous. It takes almost 8000 kwh of energy to melt down and remanufacture the steel in a shipping container. By contrast, it takes about 400 kwh of electrical energy to modify and install a container for building use.
There are also inherit advantages to using shipping containers over traditional building materials. The units are stronger than conventional house framing because of their resistance to lateral loads. The roof is strong enough to support the extra weight of a green roof. The building envelope of a container structure reflects about 95 percent of outside radiation, resists the loss of interior heat, provides an excellent air infiltration barrier and prevents water migration (though this is so only if experienced people are installing them).
There are also some disadvantages which are almost all as a result of improper installation or modification. After all, these boxes were never manufactured to be used as building materials, so care has to be taken when utilizing them for that purpose. Because the containers are steel, corrosion, water infiltration and thermal bridging are some of the biggest concerns when working with these modules. Fortunately, all of these concerns can be easily addressed and advances in products, like sprayed on ceramic paints that have an R-Value of 19, solve a multitude of problems in one application.
Not The Greenest, But It Works
PLATOON KUNSTHALLE is probably one of only a few ideal building projects where shipping container usage makes both aesthetic sense and practical sense in terms of the purpose and intent of the space itself. The raw industrial nature of the containers adds to the entire urban/underground vibe of the space and caters to the raw urban artists in which it houses. From an energy efficiency standpoint, there are things that possibly could’ve been done differently to improve it, but would most likely not work for the purposes of the space itself. Though the large expanses of glass for the artists’ studios may not be energy efficient, it serves to provide abundant natural light. Insulation is also an issue, but the main hall space, while naturally cross-ventilated, is not air conditioned, so controlling air temperatures there is not an issue.
The Good: A creative and appropriate reuse of an incredibly strong and versatile commonplace shipping staple turned building material. The energy saved repurposing the containers instead of melting them down is enormous. The steel containers offer many inherit advantages both structurally and in energy efficiency.
The Bad: Containers are not made to be used as building materials. Uniformity, integrity, and ability to be modified into a workable structure are all issues. Many containers being used for buildings now come from companies that modify and prepare raw containers for building use adding cost. Effectiveness as a functional and green building material largely lies in proper modification, application of necessary products, and installation.
The Bottom-Line: PLATOON has built a structure that is both a creative reuse of materials and a signature aesthetic that fits perfectly with their organization. Though not every aspect of the structure is focused on sustainability, its ability to be easily reproduced anywhere in the world, as well as the recycling of tons of steel, make PLATOON KUNTSHALLE a building project worthy of mention.