With Amazon on the Scene, Has Shipping Container Housing Gone Too Far?

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Shipping containers may seem like a self-contained drag and drop solution for quick and affordable housing, but the process of making them livable is a lot more complicated than that. The premise is alluring: you reclaim one of the many disused containers found all over the world as the structural basis of a compact home, maybe stacking or otherwise combining them to create a larger structure. Insulate, add utilities, furnish, receive praise. Right?

But once you get started, you quickly realize the materials are not all that easy to work with (as some architects and engineers have been warning for years.) At best, you’re looking at some serious work reinforcing the containers so they can withstand being stacked perpendicularly. At worst, you end up with something that looks like Amazon’s new shipping container house.

Amazon seems set on making virtually anything deliverable, and now that includes houses, though the MODS 40 Foot Tiny Home is among the most expensive things anyone will ever buy on the site at $40,000. Amazon itself doesn’t manufacture the home – it’s actually made by Wisconsin-based MODS International – but it’s a first for the mega retailer, theoretically making the purchase of a home as easy as pressing the ‘Buy it Now’ button from your Amazon app. There’s just one (okay, way more than one) problem, as you may have guessed from a glance at the photos. It’s hideous. Is this what we’ve come to accept as reasonable for affordable housing in 2018?

Let’s back up a minute. Shipping container architecture can definitely be a lot nicer looking than this. It’s been done many times, notably by the firm LOT-EK, which produced all the cool PUMA pop-up shops and the stunning APAP OpenSchool in Korea. The Adriance House in Maine preserves the industrial aesthetic of the crates, placing them within a larger envelope. Casa Oruga by Sebastián Irarrázaval Delpiano cantilevers the ends of multiple containers over a hillside. Patrick Bradley’s shipping container office has a warm and welcoming look, and it’s cantilevered, too.

Take a close look at all of these projects. They’re not single bare shipping containers, primarily left as-is, nor was stacking them as easy as it appears. Shipping containers are made to be stacked vertically, not offset from each other. As architect Mark Hogan of OpenScope Studio notes, the roofs of shipping containers are made of light gauge steel, and the rails at the top aren’t structural, so this kind of stacking requires serious (and expensive) steel reinforcement. So does cantilevering. Cutting openings in the containers risks the structural integrity, so again, you’ve got to reinforce.

Then there’s the fact that heating and cooling them can be tough – passive strategies don’t work due to the nature of the container itself. It’s a lot easier to install utilities and mechanical systems if you add some kind of sheathing to the outside, which takes away the raw character of the container, if that’s the look you’re going for. You could also shelter them within a larger structure to keep them comfortable inside. Obviously, all of this ups your costs and takes away from the simplicity of the project.

That may not be a problem if you’re building a hotel, a larger multi-container home, a school or a restaurant. But when all you’re trying to do is use a single container to build a cheap house, you’re ultimately taking on a lot of work (like thoroughly cleaning out all of the industrial chemicals and pesticides) and sacrificing a lot of comfort and usability while uglying up the neighborhood in the process. There are many ways to build small houses on the cheap that don’t require welding or the use of a crane.

“Housing is usually not a technology problem. All parts of the world have vernacular housing, and it usually works quite well for the local climate. There are certainly places with material shortages, or situations where factory built housing might be appropriate – especially when an area is recovering from a disaster. In this case prefab buildings would make sense – but doing them in containers does not. …If you’re going to go through the trouble of building in factory, why not build to a dimension that is appropriate for human habitation?” – Mark Hogan, OpenScope Studio

Shipping container architecture has its place and purpose, particularly when it’s located in active or former industrial areas as a nod to the history of the setting. Since it’s fast to deploy, it can also make sense for temporary emergency housing. But it’s not particularly well suited to affordable housing for the masses, especially since developers are prone to cutting corners to save costs. Do we really want to see fields of raw single-container houses in our cities, housing shortage or no? When built on a budget, they’re likely to be far less livable than stick-built structures of the same size, and it’s not like we don’t have the technology to create better prefab solutions.

Most cities around the world are dealing with severe income inequality. With population increasing and the climate growing more unstable all the time, we’re going to need a whole lot more housing that’s not just affordable but humane – while also retaining the architectural and cultural character of individual places. It’s worthwhile to consider whether normalizing shipping container housing as a ‘budget’ solution will lead us in a direction that’s actually good for humanity, or just slide us further into the devaluation of low income people.

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[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

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Parked Outback: Robert Fielding’s Oz-Some Art Cars

[ By Steve in Culture & History & Travel. ]

Robert Fielding’s Oz-some art cars once lit up desert highways; now they’re being painted, illuminated and photographed in their final resting places.

One does not simply drive across the Australian Outback (even in a Subaru) without being prepared for the worst. Those who took the oft-inhospitable, mostly desert region that makes up most of the Australian continent lightly have left cautionary reminders, in the form of dozens of rusting abandoned vehicles, scattered across the parched red wastelands.

Many of these junked cars, trucks, and even the odd ute (yes, we said “ute”) or two can be found in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY for short): a 39,633.4 square mile Aboriginal local government area that occupies the remote north-west corner of South Australia state. A mere 2,276 people (as of 2016) reside in the APY lands; one of whom is artist, painter and photographer Robert Fielding (above).

Fielding is of mainly Aboriginal heritage and his home base is Mimili, a small community of under-300 situated in the rocky, drought-stricken Everard Ranges. It’s no surprise desperate travelers abandoned their vehicles in the scrubby desert just off the Stuart Highway (“The Track” through The Outback). No doubt their forlorn presence struck a chord in young Fielding, who was born in Lilla Creek just north of the APY lands.

“I’m salvaging what belonged to the elders of our communities throughout the APY Lands and from Indulkana and Mimili, and bringing these cars to life,” explains Fielding. The artist’s use of these abandoned relics of modern life as media for expressing traditional indigenous art offers a novel method of interpreting the Aboriginal experience through the prism of recent history. In other (and much less) words, it’s cool!

Fielding’s long-exposure night photographs are the result of a labor-intensive process involving the application of reflective paint and the strategic placement of natural light. “I’m lighting them up with tealight candles and giving it another feeling and another ghostly effect with what’s going on,” according to Fielding. “There’s a light within this vehicle that’s hidden in crevices throughout.” Unpredictable weather conditions and the chaotic flickering of the candles try Fielding’s patience and test his stamina as he waits to capture the perfect shot.

Fielding has no issues when it comes to redefining prehistoric art traditions for the modern age, and he’s eager to apply the latest digital technology to assist his photography. “The reason I like new media is the camera is a tool that indigenous people are very strong and proud to be in front and behind the lens,” he explains.

Fielding has stayed close to home and close to his subjects while working out of the Mimili Maku Arts center in the APY Lands. Recognition has come from afar, however, since he was awarded top prize in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards twice in the past three years. He has also left the APY to host solo exhibitions of his work in Adelaide and Melbourne, while several of his photographs have been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. It seems that even in The Outback, a short drive can take you a long way.

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[ By Steve in Culture & History & Travel. ]

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Cyberpunk Furniture: City Streets Light Up Through Laser-Cut Wood Table

[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

Iconic cities come to life in this custom wood table series, their resin streets and waterways glowing through grids of raised wooden architecture, all sitting on top of wrapping thin and dark steel supports.

Crafted by Wood Designs in Warsaw, this array of oak surfaces includes cultural capitals like New York, Berlin, London and Paris, but buyers can select a specific city or neighborhood as well.

In each piece, a layer of resin on top flattens out and protects the surfaces for everyday use, while red, blue and green resins are lit up from below, an effect making the roads and rivers look like retro etchings on a giant circuit board.

“The guiding principle of each of our products is that it is unique and also gives the interior a character in which it is located. I want my products users to give a sense of uniqueness. We believe that every detail matters.”

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[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

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Abandonments from Above: Drone Photos of Spain’s Crumbling Architecture

[ By SA Rogers in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

For photographer Mark Redondo, the many abandoned developments littered throughout Spain aren’t just symbols of economic troubles, but a failure to learn from our mistakes. Even in the midst of a housing crisis, Spain has an incredible 3.4 million deserted houses, and many of them have stood empty since the collapse of the country’s real estate industry in 2007. Ten years ago, Redondo set out to photograph some of these crumbling structures from the ground; now, drone photography has now enabled him to capture their true scale, giving us a look at their hidden shapes, patterns and textures in a whole new way.

The series, entitled ‘Sand Castles (Part II),’ depicts these structures stark against the dry Spanish landscape, often only half-completed. The contrast between the abandoned developments and their natural surroundings is particularly striking. Redondo notes that while this colossal waste of resources was in the news for a while, the abandonments have since been largely forgotten. That doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.

“There is definitely an apocalyptic feeling to it, it is as if you are the last inhabitant in the world,” he says in an interview with the British Journal of Photography. “The sites are completely deserted and the locations are difficult to reach so, unless you are determined to go there, most people don’t ever see them. A lot of construction material, electric parts, sewage covers and copper has been stolen. There are rabbits everywhere.”

“It is important to understand that this is not an isolated problem; it is something that has happened systematically across Spain. We need to ask why this is still happening and how we are going to fix the problem.”

Redondo read news reports on abandonments and searched for updates to find the developments, and used Google Earth to identify the ones that look most dramatic by air. He used a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone to take photos for the project, which won this year’s DJI Drone Photography award.

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[ By SA Rogers in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

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Microlino: Tiny Electric Car With Front “Hood Door” for Easy Urban Parking

[ By WebUrbanist in Technology & Vehicles & Mods. ]

The smallest of the small, this two-seat micro-machine features just one (quite literal) front door positioned where one would expect to find its engine, perfect for navigating and parking on tiny European streets.

Recharging is easy since the auto can plug into a conventional socket. Finding a spot also a breeze since the little car can slide into any old narrow slot then open in front (no need for side door clearance).

The electric vehicle was debuted last year in Geneva, but had to pass a series of safety tests before it could be approved for deployment on the open road. It has gotten the green light roll out next year in Switzerland, then Germany.

Built for city driving, the car tops out at just over 55 miles per hour, but it can accelerate from 0 to 30 in five seconds. Total range is up to over 100 miles depending on the battery purchased.

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[ By WebUrbanist in Technology & Vehicles & Mods. ]

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