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A tiny idea

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Whenever I come across a new idea that interests me, I research it until I find myself satisfied for the time being. But this idea will not leave me. The idea is shipping containers for affordable and sustainable housing. It's not a new idea, I didn't come up with it, but I want to know more about it.

I worked to build decent, affordable housing with an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity in one of the richest areas of the United States. King County in Washington state has fewer millionaires than only nine other American communities. This has something to do with the fact that Microsoft is headquartered there (and also, I suspect, because Washington does not levy an income tax on its residents). One of our homeowners worked at Microsoft, although in the cafeteria, and he could not afford to live in the community he worked in. I saw how being able to buy one of the affordable townhouses we built immensely benefited him and his family.

So, affordable housing, yes, but why shipping containers? It takes a lot a lot of expertise and materials to build structures that meet building codes, and even 'green' building practices are not wholly sustainable. Shipping containers often pile up in ports around the world, in places that import more than they export, as it is apparently cheaper to create a new container than to ship an old one back to its origins empty. Some see promise in this surplus. As building units, containers are modular, meaning they can be put together like blocks, and structurally they can withstand hurricane force winds.

The SEED project at Clemson University has been working to utilize shipping containers as an affordable housing solution in the Caribbean. Here is video of a school being built out of shipping containers in Haiti: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYzg1_Ozqwo. Container City has built a number of projects in the UK: http://www.containercity.com/home.html.

Would you want to live or work in a structure made out of shipping containers? What problems do you foresee this approach to building would have in your community?

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