I am fascinated with the idea of repurposing used shipping containers into cool living, working, and recreational spaces. The Stankey brothers’ Holyoke Cabin sparked my interest and, since reading about their ideas and experiences, I have been amazed at the diversity of designs and uses for shipping containers. Among the more interesting, in my opinion, are things like Castor Design’s Sauna Box. The appeal of the Sauna Box is the idea that what many of us consider to be a taste of luxury lies is not as far out of reach as we might think. OK, so the $41,000 price tag for the Sauna Box is a bit beyond the reach of my credit card…but I think the underlying idea has incredible appeal and merit.
The great thing about shipping containers is that they are, by design, structurally sound and can be acquired for inexpensively—a quick search suggests that an eight foot by 20 foot units costs approximately $1500. With that as the baseline investment, converting them to saunas (using pre-cut sauna kits) or swimming pools (as done by the folks over at The Epic back in 2009) makes creating seemingly luxurious spaces with a cool aesthetic reasonably. Couple the pool with a shipping container guest / pool house (my favorite is by Poteet Architects) and suddenly a large backyard can be converted into a pretty magical place.
I wonder when the fashion of using shipping containers becomes enough of a trend to warrant a rich ecosystem of support services. Even today, green roofs are clearly possible (as evidenced in the Poteet Architects project above) but how about solar panel installations and electrical systems, LED or other low-power lighting, or plumbing and water purification systems that are designed with shipping containers in mind? Clearly, there needs to be enough of a market to make these types of offerings profitable (or at least commercially viable) businesses…but I wonder to what degree (if any) the standard sizes lower the operating costs of ancillary businesses.
One aspect that does not seem to be fully resolved is how to think about building code as it pertains to shipping containers. I seem to remember reading that the Stankey brothers’ benefited from thinking of their building a cabin because the cabin designation allowed them to avoid issues like plumbing by instead opting for an outhouse (though I would be hard pressed to venture out to an outhouse on a cold Minnesota night…but I digress). A recent piece by NPR’s Fresh Air about a significantly larger home in New York City highlighted similar issues. I wonder if and when the architects who are working with shipping containers come together to help craft reasonable building codes to facilitate their work and encourage the work of others.
Lastly, touches of luxury do not need to come in configurations that start with “eight foot by…”. In the same way that I am drawn to the Sauna Box, I find barrel saunas, like the ones made by Almost Heaven, to be incredibly cool, especially when you see the mobile versions made by companies like Sisu Saunas. Products like that make me wonder if I could somehow get two parking permits from the folks in Human Resources.