Can skyscrapers constructed from shipping containers solve the housing crises in megacities across the world? The answer is yes, no and maybe.
What we do know is the best architectural brains are currently tackling the challenges of rapid urbanisation, and recycled containers are increasingly on the radar.
Existing plans for container skyscrapers
In cities like Amsterdam and London, container-based housing estates are providing clean, cheap and cosy accommodation for students and low-income earners. But the idea of towering multi-storey edifices, reaching 400 metres into the sky, has – so far – remained an idea.
However, the concept of shipping container skyscrapers isn’t a new one. In 2015, architects gave us the first designs for mega-storey structures, conceived to accommodate Mumbai’s slum dwellers. The drafts are creative, exciting and visually appealing.
Are “containscrapers” the answer?
One design consists of two matching towers or “containscrapers” capable of housing 1,300 families. Thousands of brightly coloured shipping containers are vertically stacked to heights of 200 metres and 400 metres, respectively.
The units are loaded eight-high like Lego, or a weight-bearing brick wall, with the overlap providing strength and stability. The end result is a gently spiralling effect that promotes privacy, maximises available light, and provides each unit with sweeping views of the city below.
The container stacks are wrapped around a central core housing service pipes, cabling and an elevator system.
Another design, though far less imposing, consists of eight-unit container stacks reinforced by steel girders to create a 100 metre high, 32-story skyscraper. Each “floor” is staggered to support better air circulation and light. Three standard sized containers are integrated to create one family apartment.
The sheer volume of people these skyscrapers are designed to accommodate, and the ease and speed in which shipping containers can be bolted together to form residential units, is the most compelling reason to pursue the concept.
The practicalities of building container skyscrapers
There’s a big but. The jury is still out as to the safety, practicality and cost implications of shipping container skyscrapers.
Detractors point to a whole range of problems with the proposed designs, not least of which relates to the tensile strength of the base material.
Containers are simply not strong enough to hold excess weight if they’re not stacked directly on top of each other. Without an overlap, the integrity of the entire structure is compromised. That puts paid to the funky offset structures of some of the boldest conceptual skyscrapers.
Another issue is that modifying the container’s basic structure, for example by integrating multiple units or creating elaborate stacking arrangements, is potentially expensive – so a good proportion of the projected cost savings disappear.
As one expert put it, “the moment you use containers like Lego, you have to add expensive sub-structures to give the building stability”.
So are container skyscrapers an option for low cost housing? The answer is probably not.
Needed now: out-of-the-box housing solutions
Urbanisation is a ticking time bomb. According to the World Health Organisation, 200 000 people are moving into cities every day.
Right here in South Africa, 61 percent of an estimated 52 million South Africans live in urban areas. By 2050, more than two-thirds of the projected 9.7 billion global population will be living in cities.
We simply have to find a way to accommodate everyone – and container housing may be part of the solution.
At Big Box Containers, we don’t sell ready-made container homes, but we are a leading provider of high-quality 6-metre and 12-metre containers and our conversion experts can coordinate with a range of other specialists to meet customers’ unique requirements. Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.